- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Howard Dean’s decision to become the first Democrat to decline taxpayer-provided matching funds for the presidential primaries should have been no surprise to readers of this page, which has been speculating for months that he would take that step. We must admit, however, that even we were somewhat jolted by Mr. Dean’s bold announcement that he would seek $200 million from his supporters to finance his campaign until the Democratic National Convention meets in Boston in late July. Then, the taxpayer-financed Presidential Election Campaign Fund will provide the Democratic nominee with an estimated $74.4 million for the general election.

It is fair to say that Mr. Dean’s $200 million entreaty also caught the attention of President Bush’s re-election campaign, which has publicly declared its intention to raise and spend $170 million to $200 million before the GOP convention in late August. As this page noted in early May, with nearly a dozen Democratic presidential aspirants relentlessly pounding away at Mr. Bush, a more appropriately sized White House hard-money war chest would be in the neighborhood of $400 million.

It is easy to understand why this path was now taken by Mr. Dean. His campaign stunned the political world when it revealed that it had raised $7.6 million during the second quarter. That was nearly triple its first-quarter haul, and it far outdistanced the fund-raising efforts of Mr. Dean’s Democratic opponents, most of whose second-quarter totals were substantially below their first-quarter tallies.

Then, Mr. Dean’s fund-raising efforts — at least according to Democratic standards — went into overdrive. Through Sept. 30, Mr. Dean had raised more than $25 million. He knew that the acceptance of matching funds required him to limit total campaign spending before the Democratic convention to $44.6 million. He also knew that he would most likely spend all of that before the end of March, by which time the nomination will almost certainly be decided. That would leave his campaign essentially destitute until late July. If he secured the nomination, he would then be exposed to a four-month advertising onslaught by Mr. Bush’s campaign.

Under the plausible assumption that Mr. Dean’s front-running campaign will raise at least as much during the fourth quarter as it did during the third, he would receive less than $5 million in matching funds. If he raised $19.3 million, at which point his fund-raising would reach the $44.6 million pre-convention spending limit, he would get no matching funds at all. So, opting out of the matching-funds system was logical. Not only will Mr. Dean no longer subject himself to the $44.6 million spending limit; if he wins the nomination, he will not expose himself defenselessly to the Bush advertising blitz. Welcome to the Internet fund-savvy revolution.

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