Last year, when his campaign was floundering and nearly broke, McCain applied for public financing. Candidates who opt into the system get portions of their privately raised donations matched with taxpayer dollars, but agree to abide by an overall campaign spending limit. This year, the cap for the presidential primaries is about $54 million.
But earlier this month, after he became the GOP front-runner and donations began pouring into his campaign, McCain decided to withdraw from the public financing system, even though he had not yet received any public money and his campaign has already spent nearly $50 million. Staying in the system would be crippling. His campaign would not be able to pay for ads, mailings, polls, or travel until September, when the primary campaign officially ends with the party convention.
And the Democrats have an ace in the hole. They have been holding up nominations to the FEC and without a quorom on the FEC they can't rule on this:
But the commission is unable to vote because an impasse in Congress has left it with too few members for a quorum.
As a result, McCain is in a bind. His campaign says that he has a right to declare himself out of the system without an FEC ruling and that he will feel free to spend more than the cap allows in coming months. But the dispute has cast a cloud over the self-styled election-finance reformer.
I'm guessing that the Democrats are not in a hurry to remedy the situation.