- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

President Bush and “The Nine Dwarfs” seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination filed their second-quarter fund-raising reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last week. The most striking contrast between the president and “The Nine Dwarfs” related to the embarrassing shortfall reported by once-mighty fund-raising impresario Dick Gephardt, an experienced presidential candidate who actually won the 1988 Iowa caucuses.

Talk about the failure to meet expectations. The former House majority leader “lost” $700,000 sometime between the end of the quarter, when his campaign claimed to have raised $4.5 million, and the July 15 filing date, when Mr. Gephardt reported raising a modest $3.8 million for the April-June period. Even the $4.5 million that Mr. Gephardt’s campaign had hyped in late June would have been a major disappointment, given that he had predicted months earlier that he would raise at least $5 million for the quarter. In the end, he missed his own low-ball target of $5 million by $1.2 million, or nearly 25 percent. What’s so striking about Mr. Gephardt’s embarrassment is that the money involved — take your pick between the $700,000 and the $1.2 million — would have represented a mere rounding error in Mr. Bush’s FEC filing.

Talk about shock and awe. Mr. Bush raised $34.4 million during the quarter. And he didn’t even get around to holding his first fund-raiser until June 17. The 14 fund-raisers attended by the president, Mrs. Bush or Vice President Cheney during the last two weeks of June generated nearly $22 million, including $5 million that the president pocketed in less than 10 hours in California, a Democratic bastion. Meanwhile, a fund-raising letter soaked up another $4.5 million, and millions more arrived over the Internet.

More than 100,000 voters contributed to the president’s campaign, nearly 80 percent of whom gave less than $200. However, more than 70 percent of Mr. Bush’s total contributions arrived from donors who gave the maximum individual hard-money contribution of $2,000. The McCain-Feingold campaign-reform bill, which became effective immediately following the 2002 elections, had doubled the previous hard-money limit of $1,000. Thanks to the Democratic Party’s nearly unanimous support for McCain-Feingold (246 of 260 congressional Democrats voted for it, compared to 52 of 266 Republicans), the president raised $12 million more in the second quarter than he would have been able to raise under the previous hard-money limit.

The president’s $34.4 million second-quarter total exceeded the total quarterly contributions of all of “The Nine Dwarfs,” who cumulatively raised $30.5 million. For the 2000 primary campaign, Mr. Bush declined matching funds and raised $101 million as governor of Texas. As incumbent president, there is no limit on what Mr. Bush could raise for the 2004 Republican primary campaign, where he is running unopposed. His campaign has said it will likely raise between $170 million and $200 million, a feat the aerobic president could accomplish without breaking a sweat.

An interesting, though irrelevant, footnote: At this stage in 1999, Mr. Bush had actually raised more money. What is far more relevant — and interesting — is this: Any Democratic candidate who receives federal matching funds — and all are expected to accept taxpayer subsidies — will not be permitted to spend more than about $45 million before the Democratic convention, which begins in late July. The likely victor will probably exhaust nearly all of that $45 million winning the nomination, which will likely be claimed by early March.

Recall how then President Clinton, the flush, unopposed 1996 Democratic nominee, unloaded on an impoverished Bob Dole between late March 1996, when Mr. Dole clinched the Republican nomination, and the GOP convention in mid-August. This time around, it will be President Bush taking aim at the poor, wounded Democratic nominee. However, thanks to McCain-Feingold, which outlawed soft money, the Democrats will not have that source of funds to finance an organized counterattack. And unlike Mr. Clinton, who accepted matching funds and was thus limited to spending no more than $37 million before his convention, Mr. Bush will be under no such self-imposed constraint.

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