- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 21, 2004

Make that billions not millions: Campaign spending is off the chart.

At $1.2 billion, this is the most expensive presidential election in history. Add congressional races and the total reaches almost $4 billion — a 30 percent increase from four years ago, according to an analysis of campaign finance figures released yesterday by the District-based Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

Intense interest and the pocketbooks of generous private citizens could hold the key.

“The 2004 presidential and congressional elections will shatter previous records for spending, and the biggest reason is the increase in giving by individuals to campaigns and parties,” said Larry Noble, the center’s director.

Indeed, individual contributions to both federal candidates and political parties ultimately will total about $2.5 billion, based on current figures from the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

Four years ago, the figure was $1.5 billion.

Women in particular are more generous, the study found, contributing almost 30 percent of party donations exceeding $200 this year. In the previous election, they gave just more than 23 percent; in 1996, the figure stood at 21 percent.

Election Day looms in a little more than a week, but frantic fund raising continues. Though he continues to recuperate from heart bypass surgery, former President Bill Clinton went to bat for Sen. John Kerry and the Democratic National Committee, calling for contributions from party loyalists in an e-mail message Wednesday.

“The future of our country is at stake,” Mr. Clinton stated.

Since Oct. 1, political action committees and other organizations — from the American Nurses Association to the Marijuana Policy Project — shelled out almost $43 million on campaign spots and contributions for President Bush, Mr. Kerry and other candidates.

The “527 groups,” named after a section of the tax code, continue to be generous. The analyses estimated that groups such as the pro-Bush Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth or Kerry loyalists at MoveOn.org eventually will contribute $187 million to their respective favorites when all is said and done.

“This is a conservative figure,” the study noted.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry each ended September with about $37 million in their campaign war chests, according to an Associated Press estimate yesterday.

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, had $71 million at the beginning of this month, after spending almost $57 million but also raising $34.5 million in September. The Democratic National Committee began October with $42 million, spent $77 million last month and raised $63 million.

Although critics charge that costly negative or misleading campaign blitzes alienate a weary public from politics and elections, University of Wisconsin political scientist John Coleman believes they do the country some good.

“Studies indicate that campaign spending does not diminish trust, efficacy, and involvement,” Mr. Coleman wrote in his own analysis earlier this year. “Spending increases public knowledge of the candidates, across essentially all groups in the population. … Getting more money into campaigns should, on the whole, be beneficial to American democracy.”

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