- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2003

Through the third quarter, the last period for which the Federal Election Commission has reported year-to-date contribution totals for presidential campaigns, President Bush raised $85 million in federally regulated hard money. To be sure, this figure is large relative to what other individual candidates have raised this year and at a comparable date for previous campaigns. However, when measured against the $98 million in cumulative hard-money fund-raising by the numerous Democrats who seek to replace him, Mr. Bush’s $85 million total falls a hefty $13 million short.

Conceivably every hard dollar raised by potential Democratic opponents will inevitably be spent in ways that, both directly and — importantly — indirectly, reduce Mr. Bush’s re-election chances. For whatever reason, we don’t think the Bush-Cheney campaign is raising enough money.

This becomes all the more important in the wake of major Democratic fund-raising developments. In recent weeks, there has been a proliferation of well-heeled, Democratic Party-aligned groups, which are hoping to raise $300 million or more in soft and hard money to defeat Mr. Bush’s re-election bid.

When the Bush-Cheney ticket began to raise money in June, the ultimate goal bandied about in the media was $170 million. Given the unrelenting assaults that multiple Democratic candidates had already begun to wage against the incumbent, those fund-raising goals struck us as counterproductive limits. In hopeful speculation, we suggested several times that the fund-raising objective publicly offered by the Bush-Cheney team probably low-balled the eventual total.

However, unless the Bush-Cheney campaign generates a fund-raising surge early next year, it now appears that the president’s re-election team will be unlikely to exceed its pre-convention fund-raising goal of $170 million that was suggested in the spring. Press accounts report that Bush-Cheney fund-raising for all of 2003 will total about $110 million. While that level puts it on track to meet its $170 million goal, it’s worth noting that Howard Dean has recently announced his intention to single-handedly raise $200 million in pre-convention hard money. We rather doubt he can hit that target, but it suggests the intended magnitude of the opposition the president could be facing.

Meanwhile, Harold Ickes has recently formed the Media Fund. Its goal is to raise nearly $100 million in both soft and hard money to finance an issue-ad campaign in 17 battleground states next year on behalf of the eventual Democratic nominee. Voter-mobilization activities will be undertaken in those same states by America Coming Together (ACT), another newly formed group that also expects to spend nearly $100 million.

This is hardly idle boasting. As White House deputy chief of staff, Mr. Ickes served as the de facto director of fund-raising for Mr. Clinton’s scandal-tarred 1996 re-election effort. ACT is headed by Ellen Malcolm (the president of EMILY’s List, the political action committee that spent nearly $60 million electing pro-choice Democratic women during the three previous election cycles) and Steve Rosenthal (the former political director of the AFL-CIO, which has spent untold tens of millions of dollars bankrolling Democrats in recent years). Three other labor-backed groups have budgeted major soft-money expenditures: Partnership for America’s Families ($12 million), Voices for Working Families ($20 million) and Grassroots Democrats ($12 million).

In addition, the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law has apparently left a gaping soft-money loophole. At least one liberal interest group —NARAL Pro-Choice America — intends to pursue a major TV-advertising campaign designed to circumvent the new law’s prohibition of soft-money-financed “electioneering communications” within 60 days of the general election. Indeed, the organization insists it has the right to expressly advocate the election of the Democratic presidential candidate throughout the general-election campaign using unlimited contributions from unnamed individuals.

While Republican-aligned groups may be formed in an effort to counter the Media Fund, ACT and other Democratic soft-money conduits, the Bush-Cheney campaign should unabashedly move to maximize its hard-money advantages. This is especially so now that Mr. Dean has revved up a $200-million fund-raising effort and NARAL Pro-Choice America has prepared to unleash a last-minute soft-money barrage.

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