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Fundraising: Democrats debt-free, but still trail GOP


WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party is in its most confident and comfortable financial position in years, though it still trails Republicans in almost every fund-raising category.

The Democrats' efforts to whittle away at the Republicans' spending advantage have been aided by presidential nominee-to-be John Kerry's decision to skip public financing and its spending limits, the anti-Bush sentiment over the Iraq war, the elimination of the party's debt, the formation of outside Democratic fund-raising groups and Howard Dean's Internet fund-raising explosion.

"Everywhere I go, I'll talk to people and they really feel we have a chance," said Tony Coelho, a Democratic strategist and chairman of Al Gore's campaign in 2000. "They're going to have $200 million or more. But I think as long as we're around $100 million, we'll be competitive. We'll get our message out."

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe sees considerable progress toward that goal: The party entered April with $25 million in the bank to spend on Kerry's behalf and no debt -- the best shape it has been in at this point in an election season in years.

But the Republicans' money advantage remains significant:

President George W. Bush spent about $40 million on TV and radio ads in his first month on the air, compared with Kerry's $6 million.

As of Thursday, the Republican National Committee had $54 million on hand and no debt.

The Republican House and Senate fund-raising committees each had roughly twice as much cash on hand as their Democratic rivals March 1, the most recent figures released.
The DNC, tackling two problems that have dogged the party for years, has eliminated its debt while improving its ability to attract small-dollar donations through the mail, a fund-raising method Republicans have long used more effectively.

The area of Democratic fund-raising that has most stung the Republicans has been conducted by new tax-exempt groups that have raised millions in large soft-money donations that the Democratic Party can no longer collect. Those groups, funded by the likes of billionaire George Soros and run by such Democratic heavyweights as Harold Ickes, former President Bill Clinton's deputy White House chief of staffare running ads in battleground states to help close the gap with Bush, giving Kerry time to add to his campaign treasury.

Republicans were worried enough this week that they filed a formal complaint with federal election regulators accusing Kerry of illegally collaborating with the outside groups and seeking an end to the spending.

Kerry, meanwhile, is setting Democratic fund-raising records. He raised at least $42 million from January through March. That tops the Democratic record of $16 million raised in a quarter set by former Kerry rival Howard Dean.

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