INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said on Friday he was not concerned over the possibility of severe campaign funding restraints from the agency that oversees money in U.S. politics.
McCain — the likely Republican nominee in November’s presidential election — was told by the Federal Election Commission on Thursday that he might be required to use public funding and so abide by its accompanying spending limits until September when he formally would be anointed the Republican Party candidate.
That could sharply limit his ability to buy advertising and campaign while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — still locked in their contest for the Democratic nomination — are raising millions of dollars and appealing to voters nationwide.
The letter on funding is further bad news for the Arizona senator. McCain on Thursday denied a New York Times report he had an improper relationship with a lobbyist, and on Friday one of his campaign’s co-chairs in Arizona, Republican Rep. Rick Renzi, was indicted on fraud and extortion charges stemming from land deals in his state.
But at a campaign stop in Indiana, McCain replied with a dismissive “no” when asked if he was concerned by the FEC’s letter.
“It’s not a decision. It’s an opinion, according to our people,” he said.
McCain, the author of a prominent law that limits money in politics, asked the FEC for public money last year at a time when his campaign was in deep trouble. He was nearly out of cash and was forced to take out a bank loan to finance his presidential bid.
His fund-raising has since picked up as he won a string of state party nominating contests in the last two months and become the Republican front-runner.
The public financing system was created in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal revealed the extent of campaign financing shenanigans and ended with the resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon. It is financed by taxpayers who check a box on their tax returns.
McCain opted out of the system earlier this month because he has nearly reached the FEC’s $54 million spending cap for the primary season and expects to raise more money.
But FEC Chairman David Mason told McCain the commission may not approve the Arizona senator’s request because four of the commission’s six seats remain unfilled due to a standoff between the Senate and President George W. Bush.
Mason also said the FEC needs to review whether the terms of McCain’s bank loan might have violated commission guidelines by pledging its expected matching funds as collateral. He asked for a reply by March 7.
McCain has accused Obama of rolling back on a pledge to limit himself to $85 million in public money for the general election if he is the Democratic nominee. Obama, who has raised over $140 million so far, has refused to recommit to the pledge, which he made in February 2007.
Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington; editing by Frances Kerry