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Republicans Eye McCain’s Millions in Excess 2008 Funds

Sen. John McCain’s victory in the Aug. 24 Arizona Republican primary was fueled partly by transfers of $7.5 million from his 2008 presidential campaign compliance fund — an account GOP Congressional strategists are now eyeing as they look to finance a growing list of competitive midterm races.

McCain’s compliance fund reported $17.1 million in cash on hand as of June 30, with $4.65 million in transfers to the Senator’s re-election committee having been made during the second quarter of this year. Additional transfers were made before the August pre-primary fundraising reporting deadline. McCain also used the compliance account to make $63,900 in charitable donations to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Phoenix and about a dozen Phoenix-area churches.

Any presidential candidate who participates in the public financing program must submit to a post-election audit of his campaign operation by the Federal Election Commission. McCain’s compliance fund, officially known as the McCain-Palin Compliance Fund Inc., was assembled to cover the accounting and legal fees generated by that audit.

However, excess funds from compliance accounts are available to be transferred to other campaign committees or for charitable donations. Republicans looking for avenues to make up the expected Democratic fundraising advantage in this year’s fall campaign are hoping McCain will be as generous with his compliance account as President George W. Bush was with his.

One Republican consultant advising Congressional candidates said McCain “could, and should,” transfer the money to the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Most of that money was raised from GOP donors who were expecting it to be used for the cause, not collecting dust — or interest,” the consultant added.

Senate Republicans are targeting 11 Democratic-held seats; House Republicans are targeting approximately 80 Democratic-held seats, with net pickups of 10 and 39 needed, respectively, to flip each chamber. Among the GOP’s challenges is being able to fund a growing list of competitive contests until Nov. 2.

The McCain campaign declined to comment Tuesday when asked how the Senator intends to use the money that remains in his compliance account or whether he might transfer funds to GOP candidates or party committees this fall.

One Republican operative speculated that if McCain does transfer any of the money to committees other than his own, it would be to those of individual candidates or the NRSC.

In late October 2006, the Bush-Cheney ’04 Compliance Committee Inc. transferred nearly $12 million to the Republican National Committee, money that funded crucial ground-game and get-out-the-vote operations on behalf of the NRCC and the NRSC. The Bush compliance committee transferred an additional $10,000 to the RNC as late as March 31, 2008.

McCain trounced former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in last week’s Senate primary after spending more than $20 million on the race. He is not expected to need much more to get by ex-Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman (D) in the general election.

The Democratic National Committee has budgeted $50 million for the midterm elections, including $30 million for GOTV and $20 million in cash to distribute to state parties, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The RNC does not have the resources to compete with the DNC’s budget, leaving GOP operatives and the party’s two campaign committees looking for other fundraising options.

The FEC does put some limits on how compliance fund monies are spent. However, it appears that it is legal to transfer excess funds to other campaign accounts. Republican operatives interviewed for this story said they would not be surprised if McCain bypassed the RNC and transferred his compliance committee funds directly to the NRCC and NRSC, should he ultimately decide to send whatever remains in that account to a national party committee.

“Sending it directly to the NRSC and NRCC he, No. 1, gets more credit and, No. 2, gets more confidence that it will be spent in the right way and actually impact the outcome of races,” the Republican consultant said.

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