NY Times, WSJ reported McCain "has been a champion of public financing," but not that he may be breaking the law

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

In online articles discussing Sen. Barack Obama's decision to opt out of public financing for the general election, both The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that Sen. John McCain "has been a champion of public financing." But neither article noted that McCain claims to have opted out of public financing -- and has exceeded spending limits under the public financing system -- during the primary season or that the FEC chairman has taken the position that McCain cannot legally opt out without FEC approval.

In a June 19 Wall Street Journal online article discussing Sen. Barack Obama's decision to opt out of public financing for the general election, staff reporter Jacob M. Schlesinger reported that "Sen. [John] McCain has been a champion of public financing, and his campaign predictably lambasted Sen. Obama for his decision to opt out." Similarly, in a June 19 New York Times online article, staff writers Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny reported that "Mr. McCain has been a champion of public financing of campaign throughout his career" and quoted two McCain staffers attacking Obama for his decision. But neither Schlesinger nor Nagourney and Zeleny noted, in referring to McCain as a "champion of public financing," that McCain claims to have opted out of public financing -- and has exceeded spending limits under the public financing system -- during the primary season, or that Federal Election Commission chairman David Mason has taken the position that McCain cannot legally do so without FEC approval, meaning that every day that McCain spends beyond those limits, he could be breaking federal law.

In a February 21 article, the Associated Press reported: "The government's top campaign finance regulator says John McCain can't drop out of the primary election's public financing system until he answers questions about a loan he obtained to kickstart his once faltering presidential campaign. Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason, in a letter to McCain this week, said the all-but-certain Republican nominee needs to assure the commission that he did not use the promise of public money to help secure a $4 million line of credit he obtained in November." Further, in a March 23 post on The Washington Post's The Trail blog, staff writer Matthew Mosk reported that "McCain has officially broken the limits imposed by the presidential public financing system," and in a February 22 article, the Post noted that "[k]nowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison." Under the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act, violators could face fines up to $25,000 and up to five years of jail time.

In an April 10 article, The New York Times reported that Obama chief strategist David Axelrod drew attention to McCain's actions: "Alluding to a $4 million line of credit that Mr. McCain obtained late last year, secured in part by the promise of federal matching money for the primaries, Mr. Axelrod said the rest of the primary season 'should give Senator McCain time to figure out whether he was in or out of the campaign finance system in the primary, which is still an open question.' " The loan could have required McCain to remain in the race, regardless of whether his candidacy was viable, in order to receive matching funds to pay back the loan.

From The Wall Street Journal's June 19 article:

Sen. McCain has been a champion of public financing, and his campaign predictably lambasted Sen. Obama for his decision to opt out.

"Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama," said Jill Hazelbaker, the McCain campaign's communications director.

"The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people," she said in a prepared statment [sic]. "Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.

"Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system."

From The New York Times' June 19 article:

With his decision, Mr. Obama became the first candidate of a major party to decline public financing -- and the spending limits that go with it -- since the system was created in 1976, after the Watergate scandals.

Mr. Obama made his announcement in a video message sent to supporters and posted on the Internet. While it was not a surprise -- his aides have been hinting that he would take this step for two months -- it represented a turnabout from his strong earlier suggestion that he would join the system. Mr. McCain has been a champion of public financing of campaign throughout his career.

[...]

Told on Thursday morning of Mr. Obama's decision to opt out of public financing, Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain, charged that Mr. Obama had "broken his word." Mr. Black reacted to the news after a reporter showed him the Obama campaign's statement on a Blackberry in the lobby of the Chicago hotel where the McCain campaign was staying.

Jill Hazelbaker, the McCain campaign's communications director, said later on a conference call with reporters: "The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics." She added, "This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system."

Network/Outlet
Wall Street Journal, The New York Times
Person
Adam Nagourney, Jeff Zeleny, Jacob Schlesinger
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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