Democrats debt-free, but still trail GOP
BY SHARON THEIMER
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
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
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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