WASHINGTON - Sen. John McCain on Tuesday became the first presidential candidate to be eligible for matching funds from the federal government, but his campaign still hasn't decided whether to take the money.
McCain, an Arizona Republican, applied to the Federal Election Commission for public money earlier this month. The campaign had to certify that it had received a certain amount of small contributions, bringing in at least $5,000 in 20 states in donations of $250 or less each.
The public financing could be a lifeline for McCain's campaign, which has struggled to raise money and has spent nearly all of what it has taken in. As of June 30, McCain had $3.2 million in the bank and owed nearly $1.8 million in unpaid bills, even though his campaign has raised more than $24 million this year.
But accepting the federal matching funds would subject McCain to strict spending caps in each state, potentially crippling his campaign financially if he did emerge from the primary season as the GOP nominee.
"We have not made a final decision yet," campaign spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said about the public money. "We're, frankly, doing what's necessary should we decide to take the matching funds. . . . We want to keep the option on the table."