- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

PITTSBURGH — Democratic candidates battling for the 2004 presidential nomination will get millions of taxpayer dollars early next month, but President Bush is widening the cash gap between him and his challengers daily.

On Jan. 2, 17 days before the crucial Iowa caucuses that will be the first test for the Democrats, the federal government will dole out more than $10 million to the hopefuls.

Wesley Clark, a retired Army general, will draw the largest check, about $3.7 million. Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman will get about $3.6 million, the second-largest amount.

“It’s incredibly important. January and February are probably going to be decisive in this campaign,” Clark spokesman Matt Bennett said.

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards expects about $3.4 million in his first check, and Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, $3.1 million to $3.2 million.

Perennial gadfly candidate Lyndon LaRouche, although he has not participated in any Democratic forums or debates, is on the party’s ballot in several states and expects about $840,000 — more than either the Rev. Al Sharpton or Ohio Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich for this period.

Mr. Kucinich anticipates about $740,000 from the program in January and at least $2.46 million more in the next months. Mr. Sharpton expects $100,000.

Those candidates will accept the cash with the slew of strings attached under the terms of the federal matching program. The government matches the first $250 of each individual contribution received by candidates, who accept an overall $45 million spending limit, up to about $18.7 million.

Taxpayers pay for the program by checking a box on their income-tax returns to direct $3 to it.

But front-runner Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts have opted out of the public-financing system, the first Democratic candidates ever to do so. They say they must be financially free to compete with the president, who is expected to raise upwards of $200 million for his re-election campaign.

Mr. Bush has collected a giant pile of money without breaking a sweat. Yesterday, he pulled in $850,000 in a 30-minute appearance in Pittsburgh before about 400 supporters. On Monday, he collected more than $1.5 million in two fund-raisers, bookended around an event on the economy.

Mr. Bush also is skipping the matching program for the 2004 primaries, as he did in 2000. To date, he has raised more than the record $106 million he collected for his first campaign.

Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera said the government money would help the Connecticut senator and other candidates “catch their second wind.” Mr. Lieberman last month sent a fund-raising e-mail last month urging donors to “double your impact on the race” by giving up to $250 in matchable money.

The checks that will go out in January will match contributions candidates received from this January through November. Those taking part had to provide paperwork to the Federal Election Commission by Monday detailing their matchable donations to get the payment.

Candidate Carol Moseley Braun did not meet the deadline.

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