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Group files complaint against McCain campaign

A group that supports public financing of campaigns filed a federal complaint against John McCain’s presidential campaign Monday, calling for an investigation into two financial transactions involving two top McCain aides.

The Federal Election Commission complaint by Campaign Money Watch, a group that has received financing from Democratic leaning donors, questions payments from former finance chair Tom Loeffler to campaign finance director Susan Nelson. It also questions the reduction of a debt to a Web services firm co-owned by McCain campaign manager Rick Davis.

“A campaign manager renegotiating a debt with a company he partly owns raises serious conflict of interest questions,” said David Donnelly, the director of Campaign Money Watch.

Donnelly also questioned whether Loeffler’s payments to Nelson amounted to an illegal subsidy to a campaign staffer. Loeffler is a lobbyist and former congressman and Nelson is a former associate of Loeffler’s lobbying firm. The campaign has said the payments, first reported by Newsweek, were for legitimate work and were legal.

Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers called the complaint “baseless.”

“All campaign actions were carefully reviewed by legal counsel and were fully in accord with FEC rules and election law,” he said. “These are fact-specific issues, and Campaign Money Watch, a pro-Democratic, anti-McCain group, does not know any of the relevant facts. The FEC will undoubtedly throw these complaints out as soon as they review them.”

The campaign did not address the specific issues raised in the complaint.

Under FEC guidelines, the McCain campaign has 15 days to respond to explain why the FEC should take no action. The FEC can then continue with the investigation or end its inquiry.

Campaign Money Watch also began airing an ad on Washington, D.C., cable and broadcast channels questioning McCain’s role in an Air Force contract with Northrop Grumman and European plane maker Airbus for a refueling tanker. Donnelly would not divulge how much the group spent on the commercial or how frequently the ad will appear.

Campaign Money Watch is a nonprofit organization known as a 527 group, named after the section of the IRS code that governs such groups. Among its recent donors has been the Campaign to Defend America, a Democratic-leaning group that has been running anti-McCain ads. The group gave Campaign Money Watch $50,000 earlier this year, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, has called on such groups not to assist his campaign with ads directed at his opponent.

“We’re not connected in any way, shape or form to the Democratic Party’s committees or candidates,” Donnelly said. “We’ve received contributions from thousands of people who support our mission. That mission has been quite clear for years — to advocate for public financing of elections and to hold candidates accountable who oppose it. Sen. McCain has retreated from his positions.”

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