Responding to DNC attacks, the McCain campaign hosted a reporter conference call this afternoon.
The call included Jill Hazelbaker, Communications Director, Rick Davis, Campaign Manager, and Trevor Potter, Former FEC Chairman and John McCain 2008 General Counsel.
McCain's team made the point that McCain is essentially doing the same thing Howard Dean did in 2003, when he withdrew from the matching funds system. As you may recall, Dean decided to forgo the matching funds based on an online vote of his supporters. Davis scolded the media for buying the Democrat's argument:
"I think you guys totally took the debate from Howard Dean and totally got sucked into a debate that he'd know something about ..."
Potter argued the Supreme Court has concluded that public financing is voluntary, and as such, candidates have a constitutional right to withdraw from the program. Refuting Dean's argument (that it was okay for him to opt out of the system because the FEC voted to allow him out of the system), Potter pointed out that the FEC could not possibly vote to allow McCain out of the financing -- even if they wanted to -- because there are four vacancies, thus denying them a quorum. (Guess who is blocking confirmation of one of the FEC appointees?)
Potter says that simply by sending the FEC Chairman a letter on February 6, saying that he wants out of the system, McCain was released.
Putting aside the legal argument that both McCain and Obama are making, I think it's obvious to anyone paying attention that Howard Dean is attempting to pull off a dirty trick that would result in McCain not having a fair chance to compete.
The fact that Dean, himself, did the same thing makes it all the more hypocritical. And the fact that Dean argues that it was okay for him -- because the FEC voted to allow him to opt out -- while knowing the FEC cannot meet to vote to allow McCain out, should they want to -- makes this look politically expedient, and too cute by half.
Update: Jim Geraghty was also on the call.
Update: Jennifer Rubin has more, as does the American Mind.