What happened
The Federal Election Commission told Republican presidential frontrunner John McCain that he can’t immediately opt out of the public financing system for the primary season, as he requested. The decision could leave the presumed GOP nominee’s spending severely restricted by a fundraising system he helped create. (The Washington Post, free registration)
What the commentators said
There are no “sexytime lobbyists in this McCain story,” said Ana Marie Cox in Time’s Swampland blog, but “lots more money is involved” here. I’m not saying whether “anyone is behaving badly,” but if it turns out “there is something shady” about McCain’s decision to opt out of accepting public financing for the primary, it will make it harder for him to “hammer on Obama’s reneging on public financing for the general.” Either way, “this DOES mean that he is definitely not pure” in matters of campaign finance.
Certainly, said The Atlantic’s The Daily Dish blog, this puts to rest “the idea of McCain as a straight-talking man of principle.” It makes sense that a candidate would want to “have it both ways” by leaving public funding options open, but McCain’s got a higher bar to pass—it looks pretty shoddy when he makes a “pretty transparent attempt” to violate at least the spirit of “the, um, McCain Feingold Act.”
In a way it serves him right, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Public funding is a “blind touchstone of ‘progressive’ thinking” dating back to the 1970s, and its supporters won’t give up on it, no matter how often they are “mugged by reality.” As he gets all “lawyered up” to “game the campaign finance rules he hails as a defense against ‘corruption,’” McCain now has a good opportunity to admit the whole “embarrassing folly” of his support.
If only Obama would come clean, too, said Kimberley Strassel, also in The Wall Street Journal. “Obama sparked his campaign by pressuring Republicans to join him in a pledge to use only public money in a general election.” Now that he has become a fundraising powerhouse, he’s having a “‘No we can’t’ moment.”