John McCain has given us a massive hint about how likely he would be to feel constrained by existing legislation if he were President. Not at all. TPM reports that he's about to break the law by unilaterally opting out of his public finance deal and overspending - and that his basic attitude to the FEC is "what are you going to do about it, huh?"
So the McCain campaign sent the Federal Election Commission a letter (pdf) earlier this month saying that he was opting out. But there's a problem. And FEC Chairman David Mason, a Republican, made it plain in his letter (pdf) yesterday: McCain can't tell the FEC that he's out of the system. He can only ask.Meanwhile, across the pond, Britain's biggest conservo-blogger insider Iain Dale is speculating about a sudden appearance of Florida's Charlie Crist as party saviour should the blonde lobbyist scandal unravel McCain's candidacy. I imagine there would also be considerable pressure from the GOP's men-in-back-rooms to withdraw should McCain end up under a campaign finance bus. Watch how fast the Right blogosphere would un-unify itself again from the McCain bandwagon in such an eventuality.
And the FEC, which normally has six commissioners, can't give him an answer until it has a quorum of four commissioners. It currently only has two. That's because the Senate has been deadlocked over four nominees; Democrats insist on a separate confirmation vote for vote-suppression guru Hans von Spakovsky, and Republicans insist on a single vote for all nominees.
The second issue has to do with McCain's tricky loan and whether the FEC will conclude that it locked him into the system. But for now, that's really ancillary to the first issue.
It is a serious issue. As the Post reports, "Knowingly violating the spending limit is a criminal offense that could put McCain at risk of stiff fines and up to five years in prison."
It's really unclear as to what might happen next. McCain's lawyer says he's out of the system and that's that. It's unclear if they'll respond to Mason's letter. And it's unclear if the FEC can do anything or be forced to do anything, without the necessary quorum. It's literally an unprecedented situation.