Surprise: FEC plans to audit McCain's campaign funds -- but probably not Obama's

Why would they want to audit Obama? The biggest fundraising operation in political history, infused with hundreds of millions of dollars from contributors whose names the campaign refuses to reveal, dependent upon a donation mechanism whose security measures were suspiciously and inexplicably disabled, and accused by reputable publications of having looked the other way at fraudulent donations that would have been detected immediately with cursory oversight.

Aside from that, I mean, why would they want to audit him?

The punchline? It’s because he’s rolling in dough that they’re less inclined to check him out.

Obama is expected to escape that level of scrutiny mostly because he declined an $84 million public grant for his campaign that automatically triggers an audit and because the sheer volume of cash he raised and spent minimizes the significance of his errors. Another factor: The FEC, which would have to vote to launch an audit, is prone to deadlocking on issues that inordinately impact one party or the other – like approving a messy and high-profile probe of a sitting president.

McCain, on the other hand, accepted the $84 million in taxpayer money, which not only barred him from raising or spending more – allowing Obama to fund many times more ads and ground operations – but also will keep his lawyers busy for a couple years explaining how every penny was spent…

[I]ronically, the historic volume of Obama’s small contributions, which may have made it tough for the campaign to weed out problem donations, may also help spare Obama an audit.

That’s because the byzantine formula the FEC staff uses to determine whether a campaign has engaged in “substantial” violations of federal election rules – the trigger to recommend an audit to commissioners – takes into account the size of the campaign’s coffers, according to David Mason, who served as a Republican appointee to the FEC until this year.

“So if a House campaign makes a $100,000 error, that’s huge and they’re likely to get audited,” he said. “If a campaign the size of the Obama campaign has a $100,000 error, then maybe not. It would depend on what the error is, obviously,” he said, explaining that mere accounting snafus are unlikely to prompt an audit. More serious and systemic problems, such as illegal contributions, result in campaigns getting tagged with more “audit points,” Mason explained. “If you get enough audit points, you get audited,” he said, adding “nobody outside the commission would know how many audit points the Obama campaign has.”

The RNC’s requested a full audit of The One’s operations, but unless I’ve misread the statute, it’ll take a vote of four of the five commissioners to trigger review; hence the reference in the blockquote to political deadlock. File this away with last month’s post on how Barry O drove a stake through the heart of public financing: Not only will the ‘Net make it easy for any future campaign to outraise the meager $84 million cap currently provided by law, but going private practically guarantees you’ll avoid the expense and hassle of an investigation and fines. And the more you cheat, the more you raise, the less “substantial” any single instance of cheating is and thus the lower the likelihood of an audit. Perverse incentives all around, with none of them to be corrected legislatively before 2012, at the very least.

Exit question: Wasn’t “transparency” one of the core planks of the new pope’s platform? What happened to that?