- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2003

With less than three months to go before the Iowa caucuses, the Democratic candidates are frantically trying to fill their coffers in order to fund the TV ads that will air in January and February in the early states. President Bush, meanwhile, is laughing all the way to the bank.

Without breaking a sweat, the president has raised $82.4 million from individual donors. That compares with $86.2 million in individual contributions cumulatively raised through Sept. 30 by the nine Democratic candidates. On his way to raising at least $200 million (and probably more), Mr. Bush has more than $70 million in the bank. That’s nearly six times the $12.4 million cash on hand that Howard Dean has. And Mr. Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont, has nearly $5 million more in ready cash than his nearest cash-strapped Democratic competitor.

There is delicious irony here. Few people, if any, are more responsible for Mr. Bush’s unprecedented financial advantage than most of the Democrats competing to replace him. (At this point in 1995, incumbent President Bill Clinton had $11 million in the bank.) Last year, Reps. Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich and Sens. Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and John Kerry voted for the Shays-Meehan campaign-finance reform bill.

Indeed, despite lopsided Republican opposition, Democratic members of Congress almost unanimously supported the legislation. In the House, for example, Democrats voted 198-12 for Shays-Meehan, which Republicans opposed by a 176-41 margin. A month later, in March 2002, 48 of 50 Democratic senators were joined by 11 of 49 Republicans and one independent to pass the same bill. Among other things, the measure banned soft-money contributions to national parties and doubled (from $1,000 per election to $2,000) the hard-money limits for donations from individuals to federal candidates.

Over the two previous two-year election cycles, both parties evenly divided about $500 million per cycle in soft-money donations. Soft-money parity went a long way toward helping Democrats compensate for the Republicans’ huge advantage in hard money. Shutting down the soft-money pipeline was bound to exaggerate the Republicans’ hard-money advantage.

Altogether, at the end of the third quarter, Democratic presidential candidates had less than $40 million in cash on hand (compared to more than $70 million for Mr. Bush). Moreover, unlike the president, who raised $50 million in the third quarter and spent less than $12 million, Messrs. Gephardt, Edwards, Kerry and Kucinich each spent more than he raised. Mr. Lieberman, whose fund-raising has been a major disappointment all year, spent almost every dollar he raised during the quarter. Over the next four months, Democrats will be emptying their coffers much faster than they can replenish them, including the matching funds from the taxpayer.

With the possible exception of Mr. Dean, whose fund-raising prowess may allow him to forgo matching funds and the spending restrictions that come with them, the Democratic nominee emerging from the primaries as early as the beginning of March will be destitute until the Democratic convention at the end of July. Democrats will have nobody to thank for their predicament but themselves.

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