McCain’s ambition is apparently to dictate the terms of his presidential victory. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy. His campaign may learn this the hard way as they experience the aftermath of his present tirade over outside groups in campaigns.
It is no secret that the McCain campaign is anticipating using the federal grant available for presidential campaigns that abide by the general election spending limits. It is also no secret that the Obama campaign would prefer not to be so constricted, thanks anyway. And it is common knowledge that the FEC has no quorum, nor is Majority Leader Reid likely to recess and offer the Bush folks a chance to fill FEC vacancies. Consequently, there will be no FEC quorum to certify the McCain letter agreeing to the general election funding strictures, or direct the Treasury Department to fork over the cash.
Senator McCain has made no secret of his belief that 527s engaged in indirect campaign advocacy should be subject to the political committee limits and requirements (he doesn’t exactly say it this way, but if you squint you get this message). He loathes the activists who play in this arena. He is a unreconstructed advocate of centralization of campaign activity in candidate campaigns and regulated committees. The tension between issue speech and campaign activity doesn’t seem to disturb him – he’s happy to err on the side of treating all relevant activity under the umbrella of regulation. It’s a perspective a central-planning, Progressive Era believer in the management of politics can embrace. But, unfortunately for him, that’s not among the sentiments that motivate most Republicans, or even most voters if you asked them.
Which means that people who believe McCain is the best candidate, and who want to "do more" have a troublesome choice to make. If they take him at his word, then their association with 527s and other exempt groups who want to move the debate in a pro-McCain way will damage them should McCain win. As Terry Nelson noted in the piece linked above, "If John McCain becomes president, the question people have to ask themselves is, ‘do you want to have a relationship with the Republican Party?,’" Nelson said. "Because it’s difficult, as a matter of honor, for him to allow his White House or party to engage in relationships with outside groups that he has condemned." No veiled threat here. If you show up as a donor to a 527, its hasta la vista, baby.
So, no surprise, we hear that the enthusiasm for funding independent efforts has petered out on the GOP side. To summarize, McCain may have no public grant come September, and has just told anyone considering outside help to buzz off. Meanwhile, Obama gets the liberty he wants to fundraise as the nominee, and has good relations with the activists who will want to move the debate in his direction. McCain’s position is bad law, in my opinion, but it is also bad politics, gratuitous, and stupid. Hasta la vista, indeed.