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Sometimes Dirty Tricks Backfire on Your Ass

February 23rd, 2008

Remember back in last year, when the Republicans disabled the FEC in a political power game? Well, it may be coming back to bite them in the ass now.

I blogged on this last October: the Federal Elections Commission is down to just two commissioners, far short of its normal six. Bush and the GOP want to put a political stooge, Hans von Spakovsky, onto the commission. This nominee has been implicated in the US Attorney scandal, is sharply partisan, and so was seen as completely unacceptable by Democrats, led by Barack Obama and Russ Feingold. But Republicans wanted von Spakovsky on the commission badly, so they said that either von Spakovsky gets approved, or nobody gets approved. They refused to consider the other three nominees if their boy was not seated. They probably thought they were being ever so clever: either seat a Bush stooge on the elections commission, or have no commission at all, either way allowing for all sorts of GOP hanky-panky leading up to November.

And so there was no confirmation, and the FEC remained understaffed, with only two commissioners; as a result, the quorum of four cannot be made and the commission cannot function.

That doesn’t mean the commission can’t be inconvenient, however. The way Republicans have set things up, they may wind up completely disabling the McCain campaign for the next six months:

The nation’s top federal election official told Sen. John McCain yesterday that he cannot immediately withdraw from the presidential public financing system as he had requested, a decision that threatens to dramatically restrict his spending until the general election campaign begins in the fall.

You see, McCain opted into the program for the primaries, but did not yet take federal funding that would lock him into it. And now that he’s all but won the nomination, he wants to opt out, as he’s reached the top spending limit for anyone in the program.

Here’s where the irony comes in. If you’ve opted in to public funding, you can only withdraw if the FEC votes to let you leave. But since Republicans have left the FEC with only two commissioners, they can’t do that. Like I said, sometimes dirty tricks can come back to bite you in the ass.

But even if the FEC were to be re-enabled, McCain still might not be able to leave. Why not? Because of McCain’s sweetheart deal to get a $1 million loan from a bank in order to keep his struggling campaign afloat before the New Hampshire primary. In getting the loan, McCain had to promise the bank that were his campaign to flounder, he would opt for public financing to pay back the loan. In short, he used public money as collateral for the loan. And that, according to FEC rules, is the same as accepting federal money, and locks you into the system.

So McCain might be locked into public financing from two different directions, which means that he is not allowed to spend more than $54 million until September, when the primary season ends and the Republican convention is held. But McCain already spent $49 million by the end of January–which leaves him a paltry $5 million to spend over the next six months, money he may have already spent in February.

McCain’s solution seems to be to take the Bush route: break the law and then insist you didn’t break it. McCain’s lawyer is already claiming that McCain is somehow magically no longer tied to public financing. Now, he may be able to get away with this, but even if he does, it’ll be a big blow against him politically. He has been running as Mr. Clean, using that image to bash Obama for even considering to reneg on an oral pledge, not even legally binding, to use public financing for the general election later this year. But now that McCain is probably going to knowingly violate campaign finance laws himself, it would appear as extremely hypocritical for him to go after Obama on this.

In fact, Obama could use McCain’s actions to get him out of his pledge. Obama never made a statement that he would break his pledge, and his pledge was not to use public financing, but to “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” But if McCain breaks the law on public financing, Obama could say, “I can’t trust any deal with someone who so cavalierly violates campaign financing laws,” thus dealing McCain a double blow–Obama gets to raise huge amounts of money in the general election, and paints McCain as a hypocritical scofflaw on campaign finance at the same time.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops in the press over the next few weeks, especially after McCain’s trouble with the lobbyist connection. All in all, not a good week for the Republican nominee apparent.

Addenda: The McCain-lobbyist story is now morphing from a sex scandal into a lobbyist scandal, and rightly so. As a sex scandal, it’s more juicy for the press, but McCain could deny it more easily. But as a lobbyist scandal, he’s in real trouble. First, John “Mr. Campaign Finance Reform” McCain has admitted that his campaign staff is riddled with lobbyists, and second, McCain has been caught in a lie concerning his involvement in the Iseman/Paxson favoritism scandal.

  1. Tim Kane
    February 24th, 2008 at 01:00 | #1

    Looks like McCain is starting off his general campaign on the wrong foot. Another case where tactical decision made under desperate conditions gives way to strategic calamity. In McCain’s case there’s a whole boat load of these, including his decision to coddle to Bush after Bush smeared him in 2000. Then there’s the follow up to that, the embrace of the Bush war on Iraq. Can he really win the election running on the idea of a 100 year vanity war – a war that should have never been initiated in the first place?

    Strategic thinking looks like this. The problem with Islamic terrorism has to do with ideas. To the extent that it is a war at all, it’s an ideological war. For the unimaginative types the precedent is the cold war. The better idea wins out in the end by not fighting. The losing idea then makes an adjustment, and that’s it.

    Islam is attempting to adjust to modernism. They’re late to this game, most of the world has adapted somewhat. But then Islam was late to adopting pre-modernism. It was the last movement of the kind associated with the ‘axial age’ which is normally identified as around 500 b.c.e. Islam dates itself from 622. As late adopters often do, they did quite well once they adjusted. Islamic society’s problems are made more complicated by the fact that they have oil. Still, many of the gulf statelets are working hard on advancing themselves into modernism.

    The problem is best fixed with a tweezers, not a sledge hammer. Make a couple of Islamic norms now dormant active, and make a couple of Islamic norms now active dormant, and the problems solved. The idea of a global war of civilizations, or even a hundred year war in Iraq boarders on malice.

    The idea of a hundred year war in a country that had a GNP in 2002 of only $52billion is absurd on its face. McCain, well into his 70s, though still going strong, sex scandal and all, will likely only live, one or two decades into that century. With so little vested, maybe he’s not the best person to be calling the shots.

    Maybe it would help if we had a leader that was a little more familiar with Islam and a little less afraid of it. Hmm. I wonder who that might be?

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