Friday, May 21, 2004

Presidential candidate John Kerry is considering delaying the acceptance of his party’s nomination until weeks after the Democratic National Convention in an effort to conserve campaign funds for the general election.

The move would allow the Massachusetts Democrat to delay accepting and spending $75 million in public financing, which bars use of private donations, until President Bush accepts his party’s nomination five weeks later at the Republican National Convention.

Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said they are simply looking for some way to “level the playing field” against the Bush campaign, which also will accept the public campaign funds.

“The timing of the conventions would allow the Republicans a five-week spending advantage,” she said. “We are looking at this and many other options very seriously because we won’t fight with one hand behind our back.”

Republicans accused Mr. Kerry of trying to circumvent federal financing laws — which he has supported — and said it is one more example of the senator’s “flip-flopping” on political issues.

“Typical of Kerry, this is just another flip-flop,” said David Bossie, president of Citizens United, a conservative group. “He said he supports campaign finance reform, but when it doesn’t suit him, he changes his mind and skirts the law to his advantage.”

Ken Mehlman, Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign manager also noted, “Only John Kerry could be for a nominating convention, but be against the nomination.” Mr. Mehlman was referring to Mr. Kerry’s boast earlier this year that he had supported Iraq war funding before he voted against it.

Under federal financing laws, a candidate who accepts federal financing cannot raise or spend any campaign donations raised from private sources.

In the current election season — which is still technically the primary — both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry declined the limited federal financing in favor of raising an unlimited amount of money from private sources. Thus far, Mr. Bush has raised more than $200 million, and Mr. Kerry has raised just over $110 million. Several officially independent groups have also been helping Mr. Kerry by raising tens of millions of dollars for negative ads against Mr. Bush.

If the two candidates begin their respective general election campaigns as currently scheduled, Mr. Bush would have to make his $75 million last two months while Mr. Kerry would have to make his funds last more than three months. In other words, Mr. Bush could spend roughly $1.3 million per day compared with Mr. Kerry’s roughly $830,000 per day during a time when campaign money is traditionally spent on expensive national television advertisements.

Both Republicans and Democrats believe Mr. Kerry’s potential strategy to delay acceptance of the party nomination is an admission that Mr. Kerry does not have enough funding to adequately challenge Mr. Bush or last throughout the election campaign.

Democrats — who are generally concerned about Mr. Bush’s fund-raising prowess — seemed open to the idea of doing something, but were not quick to embrace Mr. Kerry’s delayed nomination plan.

As the proposal began leaking out late yesterday afternoon — believed by many to be a trial balloon floated over a slow weekend to test public approval of the gambit — several campaign finance experts were scratching their heads over whether the plan would work.

It’s not clear, for instance, whether such a maneuver would delay Mr. Kerry’s selection of a running mate. Also, it was not clear whether Mr. Bush could respond by pulling the same trick and officially accepting the nomination sometime after Mr. Kerry does.

Whatever the legal arguments, Republicans say it is a clear violation of the spirit of federal campaign financing laws, which are generally supported more by Democrats than by Republicans.

The latest of the major campaign financing overhauls — the McCain-Feingold reform — came in March 2002 and was supported by Mr. Kerry.

“This is just the latest example of John Kerry’s belief that the rules are for other people, not for him,” Mr. Mehlman said.

Some Republicans fretted that it could open the door for a brokered convention in which Democratic delegates could bolt for a better nominee if they determine that Mr. Kerry isn’t their best runner.

“This could give Kucinich the opening he’s been looking for,” Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said in reference to Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, the die-hard Democratic presidential campaigner from Ohio. “How long before Kerry realizes this is a stupid idea and blames a staffer for it?”

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