McCain wants to exit from the matching-fund system in order to get out from under the primary spedning limit of $54 million, even though in January he used the promise offederal matching funds to get a $1 million bank loan when his campaign ran into financial difficulties prior to the Super Tuesday primary contests. McCain's victory in South Carolina that day thrust him into the role of GOP frontunner and millions of dollars of donations have flowed in since then, alleviating the financial crisis that the Arizona Republican faced last year when his campaign bottomed out.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean said McCain benefitted from his application for matching funds beyond the bank loan, pointing out that participating in the system helped McCain get automatically on the presidential ballot in key states.
FEC Commissioner David Mason has publicly stated that McCain cannot unilaterally withdraw from the system without commission approval, which is impossible for the Arizona Republican to do at this moment because a partisan dispute between the White House and Senate Democrats has left the FEC without a working quorum of commissioners in place.
If McCain cannot get out from under the spending limit, he could be severely hamstrung in responding to Democratic attacks in the period leading up to the GOP convention. McCain's campaign has already raised $49 million, and Dean and other Democrats are convinced that he may have already broken thought the $54 million limit. If the FEC refuses to let McCain exit the voluntary matching-funds system, he could be held personally liable for violating the cap, which would a criminal charge.
"The whole issue here is frankly John McCain's integrity," Dean told reporters on Sunday.
McCain's campaign charged that Dean was hypocritical on the issue, and campaign lawyers argue that they reviewed the issue thoroughly before McCain applied for the unusual bank loan.
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