WASHINGTON — The Federal Election Commission has freed Republican presidential candidate John McCain from a public matching fund program that would have limited his spending in the primaries.

The commission's unanimous vote means McCain is not bound by spending limits that restrict candidates who do accept such matching funds.

The commission did not specifically vote on an underlying question — whether McCain used the promise of public funds to secure a loan to his campaign late last year.

Commissioners did reject McCain's argument that he did not need the FEC's approval to withdraw from the public system.

The action Thursday does not affect McCain's decision to obtain $84 million in public financing for the general election.