Howard Dean to Ask if McCain Is Breaking Campaign Finance Law

Feb 24, 2008 4:34pm

ABC News’ Tahman Bradley Reports: Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean announced Sunday that his organization will file a complaint on Monday with the Federal Election Commission, asking them to investigate whether Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain is breaking the law by reversing his decision to use public funding for his presidential campaign.

"John McCain cannot unilaterally withdraw from his spending limit," said Dean on a conference call with reporters. "He cannot be let out of the matching funds program if he’s already used the promise of matching funds for loans or collateral for private loans."

McCain announced earlier this month that he will not accept public campaign financing for the primary election — freeing him to spend as much as he needs through September.

If McCain opts into the public system, or is forced by the FEC to do so, he would be bound by a $50 million overall spending cap and individual state limits. Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York have opted out of public financing and would be free to spend as much as they want through the spring and summer before the party conventions. Obama, it should be noted, has said he would consider using public financing in the general election if the Republican nominee agrees to do the same. 

McCain’s FEC financial report, Dean claims, shows he’s used the promise of federal money for private loans. Questions about McCain’s use of the promise of public money was first raised on Thursday in a letter from the FEC to McCain. The commission called on the campaign to explain an agreement it entered into with Fidelity Bank and Trust Bank of Bethesda. 

Dean accused McCain of breaking the very campaign finance law he championed in the U.S. Senate. "He has made a career out of posing as a reformer. And the truth is that his reforms that he’s proposed are for everybody but him."

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers responded to the DNC’s press conference by pointing to Dean’s own actions when he ran for president in 2003. "Howard Dean’s hypocrisy is breathtaking given that in 2003 he withdrew from the matching funds system in exactly the same way that John McCain is doing today."

Dean committed to taking matching funds in 2003, saying he would attack any rival who skipped out of public financing.  He later applied for public money.

The Republican National Committee issued a statement on Sunday saying that Dean has no credibility on fundrasing issues, not only because he reversed courses on his public funding pledge during his own presidential campaign but also because the RNC has been outpacing the DNC in fundraising.

"At the start of this month, the RNC had a 7-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over the DNC. Dean’s misguided attacks in no way excuse Obama’s vacillations on his pledge to the American people. At this rate, Obama and Dean will soon be as trustworthy as Sen. Clinton. Considering Dean and Obama’s left-wing positions on health care, taxes and national security, it’s no surprise they’re relegated to making these sorts of misguided attacks," said RNC spokesman Alex Conant.

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