- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has decided to opt out of the post-Watergate public financing system and is considering taking out a personal loan to help fund his struggling White House bid.

Mr. Kerry becomes the second Democratic presidential candidate to abandon the system, but unlike rival Howard Dean, he plans to keep his spending to the $45 million limit the program imposes for the primaries. He will not follow its state-by-state limits.

“He changed the rules of this race and anybody with a real shot at the nomination is going to have to play by those rules,” Mr. Kerry said during a campaign stop in Iowa.

Mr. Kerry’s move marks the first time in Democratic Party history that two contenders for the nomination have abandoned the system since the Watergate scandal some 30 years ago. It also is the first time the top candidates in the two major parties have decided to skip public financing.

“As you all know, this has been a difficult week in our campaign, but I’ve been in tougher spots than this before and I’ve fought back and won,” said Mr. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. “That fight begins today with a decision I’m making to give up federal matching funds in this campaign.”

Mr. Kerry fired his campaign manager on Sunday, then lost his chief spokesman and deputy finance director, who quit within days. Mr. Kerry compounded the problem on Thursday, telling the Associated Press that his campaign would be “better off” without them. He later called the three former aides to apologize for the remarks.

Meanwhile, the race’s newest candidate, Wesley Clark, announced Thursday he will accept the so-called matching funds. He has filed the paperwork needed to qualify for public financing, as have Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Mr. Kerry’s campaign initially put out a statement saying he would take out a personal loan, then issued another, deleting that line. Mr. Kerry said he had made no decision, but urged his supporters to step up their contributions.

“I don’t know what I’ll put in,” the candidate said. “I’m not going to fight with one hand behind my back.”

His decision to skip the $18.7 million in public money comes despite a slowdown in his fund raising after a promising start, and the acknowledgment by his campaign that he cannot tap wife Teresa Heinz Kerry’s multimillion-dollar Heinz food fortune for the race.

Mr. Kerry has reported investments valued at about $700,000 to $2.4 million and up to $600,000 worth with his wife. His campaign advisers have said he has several million dollars of his own money he could tap for his race — though if any resulted from gifts or asset transfers from his wife, Mr. Kerry would have to show he received it before starting his presidential campaign.

The senator joins Democratic rival Mr. Dean and President Bush in abandoning the public financing system in the primaries. Mr. Dean made history last Saturday when he became the first Democrat ever to decide to skip the program, which offers a taxpayer-funded match of up to $250 for each contribution, up to a total of $18.7 million.

The system imposes an overall spending limit of $45 million, plus state-by-state caps.


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