- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2004

Howard Dean supporters are making a big play for the so-called “NASCAR Dads” by sponsoring a race car in the Busch Series this year.

At $2.5 million, it’s a risky price tag for Team Dean Racing, because Mr. Dean is in tight races in must-win primaries and might not even win the Democratic nomination; the NASCAR season runs through November.

But even bolder, say Democratic experts and lawyers, is that the racing team plans to skirt laws that strictly govern how money is raised and spent to promote a presidential campaign.

“As complicated as the new campaign-finance laws are, this is a no-brainer,” said a Democratic campaign-finance lawyer. “If they’re paying for something that benefits the campaign, then it’s either an in-kind contribution or an independent expenditure. Either way, they have to file with the” Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Erin Titman, spokeswoman for Team Dean Racing, said federal election lawyers have reviewed their plans and determined that they are free from campaign-finance laws, are not required to publicly list supporters and don’t need to file papers with the FEC.

“This is a privately funded race team,” Ms. Titman said. It will be bankrolled by contributions from Dean supporters from across the country, she said.

Several Democratic campaign-finance experts said at the very least, the team would be “pooling” money, thus requiring it to register with the FEC. The team further could be limited from raising more than $2,000 per contributor, including money the donor already has donated to Mr. Dean’s presidential campaign.

The degree to which Team Dean Racing must abide by campaign-finance laws depends upon the level of independence it has from the Dean for America campaign.

Ms. Titman said there “is not a whole lot” of contact with the Dean campaign.

“We’re trying to stay as far away from them as possible,” she said.

Dean spokesman Jay Carson said there has been no contact between the racing team and the campaign, although he’s heard of it.

“This is the greatest grass-roots campaign in modern politics,” he said. “That’s what grass roots is all about. We have supporters doing events all over the country.”

Ms. Titman said the team plans to coordinate Dean rallies at NASCAR races throughout the season, which starts next month. The team also is coordinating appearances with Mr. Dean’s brother, Jim.

To run in all 34 Busch Series NASCAR races this year, the team plans to collect $2.5 million nationwide from Dean supporters. That’s far below the $4 million to $5 million race teams usually spend in a season.

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