Does The DNC's Complain Against McCain Have Merit?

The Democratic National Committee wants a federal judge to force the dormant Federal Election Commission to investigate John McCain's decision to withdraw from the public financing system in midseason.

They filed suit in DC federal court today alleging that McCain used his earlier privileged status inside the system to secure a loan and to secure ballot access in the states. By opting out without the FEC's approval, the DNC alleges that McCain "unilaterally" and unlawfully abrogated the agreement.

"Nonsense," replies the McCain campaign.

Who's right?

There's no precedent for the DNC's actions. The statute permits such suits after 120 days of inaction. There's been about 50. If for some reason a court decides that the DNC's complaint has merit, they'll probably ask the FEC to explain what is has done to resolve the matter. They'll probably do this behind closed doors.

Interestingly, the DNC is borrowing a page from the Republican National Committee, which, in 2004, tried to get a federal judge to force the FEC to declare that 527s were illegal because the FEC was taking too much darned time in doing so. The court ruled that the FEC's processes were its processes and it was up to Congress to change the law if it was unhappy with the FEC's pace.

Bottom line: there's no reason for McCain's campaign to be worried about any legal or financial ramifications of this suit or any others. There may well be, at time unknown in the future, some political questions for them to answer.

Why did the DNC file now? They want the court to determine that the FEC is unable to take action and therefore give them permission to sue the McCain campaign directly.