Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign yesterday scolded reporters for their coverage of his ongoing dispute with the Federal Election Commission, saying they were taken in by Democrats’ spin and that the campaign is in no danger.

“You guys totally took the bait from [Democratic National Committee Chairman] Howard Dean,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters during a conference call.

Mr. Davis dismissed Mr. McCain’s disagreement with the FEC over whether he can unilaterally withdraw from his earlier application to take taxpayer-funded matching dollars in the primaries.

Mr. Dean filed an official challenge with the FEC on Monday, arguing Mr. McCain has received benefits from his earlier participation in the public system, and must be bound to the strict limits from here on.

But it’s more than just Mr. Dean — earlier this month FEC Chairman David Mason wrote Mr. McCain saying he needs more information on the matter. Mr. Mason said in any event, the committee must formally vote to let him out of his agreement.

Complicating matters for Mr. McCain, four of the FEC’s six commissioner seats are empty, meaning it can’t even get a quorum to rule on his case.

The issue with the FEC is a procedural dust-up over Hans von Spakovsky, a Republican nominee who Democrats would like to defeat. But Republicans say the FEC is designed to be split in a bipartisan manner and if the Democrats’ nominee is approved, so must Mr. Spakovsky.

Yesterday Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill blamed each other for the stalemate.

“The problems are on the Democratic side. You might ask them if they have in mind trying to create problems for his campaign,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “It wouldn’t surprise me if maybe that’s what they do have in mind.”

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans are trying to sneak through a bad nominee.

“If Van Spotsky or whatever his name is can get a majority, he’s on. If he isn’t, he’s out. Same with the two Democrats,” Mr. Reid said, adding that he thinks Republicans are trying to protect their own campaigns from examination.

“They made a decision to make the Federal Election Commission functionless, because with all the problems that we are seeing, most all of them are directed toward Republicans. And I guess they figure it’s better that nobody scrutinizes what they’re doing,” he said.

Ironically, Mr. Spakovsky’s nomination had originally been blocked by Sen. Barack Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to face Mr. McCain in November’s election. But Mr. Obama withdrew his “hold” on the nomination in December.

The Democratic National Committee on Monday filed a challenge arguing Mr. McCain, who applied last summer to the FEC for public matching funds for his campaign then tried to withdraw, should not be let out of his agreement. Mr. Dean says Mr. McCain has already been helped by the prospect of federal funds, including securing a loan and avoiding signature requirements for getting on Ohio’s ballot.

Mr. McCain has released letters arguing his bank did not take federal funds into account when giving the loan, and said the Ohio ballot is a state issue separate from the FEC.

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