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McCain's 'On-the-Side' Fundraising Rises to $150M

During last night's debate, John McCain attacked Barack Obama for abandoning his pledge to accept public funding for the general election if his opponent did so. While we wish Obama had opted in to the public system, it's also worth noting that McCain left out a few inconvenient truths about his on-the-side fundraising.

When McCain accepted an $85 million public funding grant, he agreed to stop raising money except for modest amounts to pay for book-keeping. But McCain kept raising big money. The only difference was that he focused his effort entirely on raising checks for special "joint fundraising committees," which funnel most of the money they receive to the Republican Party. Lax campaign finance rules are allowing McCain to rake in contributions of up to $67,800 for these committees (slightly down from $70,100 while his official committee was still in business). That's nearly 30 times the maximum that Obama's campaign committee can receive.

Last night, about the same time McCain attacked Obama for his fundraising, 10 of the Arizona senator's joint committees reported that they have raised $87 million since the beginning of July, bringing their total to $150 million.

McCain's methods are technically legal, and indeed Obama has mimicked them by setting up a committee in his name to raise money for the Democratic Party. But aside from circumventing the public funding agreement, they defeat the overall campaign finance system's goal of prohibiting large contributions directly to politicians. The system permits larger contributions to party committees to facilitate party building. But by personally raising money for these committees so close to an election, McCain and Obama have erased the line separating party and candidate.

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