- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean will abandon the public campaign-financing system and the spending limits that accompany it, he said yesterday, with the hope that his private money-raising prowess will help him capture the nomination and defeat President Bush.

His historic decision, which the former Vermont governor announced during a speech in his home state, sets the stage for a possible presidential race with candidates from both major parties for the first time forgoing the Watergate-era funding system.

Claiming that he supports the public-financing system, Mr. Dean said, “The unabashed actions of [Mr. Bush] to thwart our democratic process with a flood of special-interest money have forced us to abandon a broken system.”

Mr. Dean is the first Democratic candidate to reject public campaign funding since its institution in the 1970s.

Mr. Bush has said he will also opt out of the public-financing system, as he did in the 2000 Republican primaries when he raised a record sum of more than $100 million.

The system, created after the Watergate scandal 30 years ago in an effort to reduce presidential candidates’ dependence on big campaign donors, is financed by taxpayers who have the option on their income-tax returns of directing $3 to it.

Candidates who register to accept the public funding in the primaries can receive as much as $18.7 million in taxpayer money. However, they can spend only up to about $45 million.

A candidate who opts out of the system forfeits the public money but benefits because he no longer is restricted by how much money he can spend.

Mr. Dean may have been prompted in his decision by the flood of campaign contributions he’s received over the Internet. In the latest three months of fundraising, through September, he surprised his rivals by garnering a record $14.8 million for the time period. In just over one week, he raised nearly $5 million through his Web site.

Campaign aides said supporters have donated or pledged $5.3 million in the past two days. With about $25 million raised through September, Mr. Dean will need a continual flood of contributions to make up for the $18.7 million in government money he is rejecting.

Like Mr. Bush in his primaries, Mr. Dean now can spend unlimited amounts on his campaign for the nomination and, if he receives the nomination, through the summer before the general election season starts.

Two of the other Democratic hopefuls, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, have been considering whether to drop out of the system, but Mr. Dean is the first to make the decision official.

Mr. Dean said he decided to abandon public financing, based on the overwhelming opinion of more than 600,000 of his supporters, whom he’d asked to vote by e-mail, telephone or postal mail by Friday on whether he should opt out of the system.

However, some of his rivals yesterday criticized Mr. Dean, who is a proponent of campaign-finance reform, for what they said was a flip-flop.

“Three months ago, Governor Dean was saying what a Democratic principle it is to have campaign-finance reform and what a big issue it would be if someone stepped outside,” Mr. Kerry said in Concord, N.H.

“That’s when he wasn’t raising a lot of money. Now, Mr. Change-Your-Opinion-for-Expediency is saying, ‘Oh, I’m now able to raise money. Maybe we should get out of the system.’ I think somewhere along the line, fundamental principles are important,” Mr. Kerry said.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri said that Mr. Dean abandoned the public-financing system because he hoped to outspend the other Democratic candidates in the presidential primaries and capture the party’s nomination.

“Forget all of the gimmicks and rationalizations, the plain truth is that Howard Dean wants to outspend his opponents in the early states and has, therefore, violated his pledge to stay within the public-financing system,” Mr. Gephardt’s campaign said in a prepared statement. “Just like President Bush, Howard Dean has effectively undermined campaign-finance laws for his own personal, opportunistic political advantage.”

However, the former Vermont governor defended his decision.

“Our campaign has not been talk of campaign-finance reform; it has been actual reform,” Mr. Dean said. “Over 200,000 people have given an average of $77 to bring us here, and they have now overwhelmingly refused to be intimidated by George Bush and his cronies.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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