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Kerry lags behind Bush in fund raising
By (Agencies)
Updated: 2004-03-04 17:27

U.S. Senator John Kerry is a whopping $100 million behind President Bush in ready cash as he embarks on the next phase of his White House campaign, and dependent on outside groups he can't legally control to help close the gap.

At the same time, Kerry's aides say he brought in a record $1.2 million over the Internet in less than 24 hours after locking up the Democratic presidential nomination with a near-sweep of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.

They cite that as evidence the Massachusetts senator can raise additional millions quickly and compete financially with Bush through this summer's political conventions. Federal spending restrictions take effect for the general election campaign in the fall.

Kerry himself sounded like a man scrapping for every last dollar on Wednesday.

"George Bush has about $200 million and he's going to start advertising tomorrow," he told an audience in Orlando, Fla. "We need to be able to answer him," he added, appealing for donations of "$10, $20, $50, $100." Federal law allows donors to contribute up to $2,000 to an individual candidate.

In its most recent public report, the Kerry campaign said it had $2.1 million cash on hand as of Feb. 1, with debts of $7.2 million. Since then, while fund raising has improved, Kerry has had to fight his way through more than two dozen primary and caucus states, running costly television advertising in several of them.

Bush's campaign committee reported cash on hand of $104 million as of Feb. 1, with no debt. The president continues to raise money, scheduling three fund-raisers in a little more than 24 hours in California on Wednesday.

Stephanie Cutter, a spokeswoman for Kerry, said the campaign has an aggressive fund-raising program, and the senator said several of his former rivals "have offered to be helpful." Additionally, the Democratic National Committee is ready to step in.

But Kerry's own fund-raising efforts will take time to bear fruit, and the party is limited in what it can spend.

As Bush was poised to unleash the opening $10 million salvo of his ad campaign Thursday, outside groups eager to help Kerry were stepping in, to protests from Republicans.

These groups, MoveOn.org Voter Fund and the Media Fund, have risen to prominence since enactment of a new law meant to rein in the influence of big money in campaigns legislation that Kerry and other Democrats supported and many Republicans opposed.

While they may raise money in donations of unlimited size from individuals, they are barred from coordinating their activities with campaigns. Nor may they air commercials that explicitly urge a vote for or against individual candidates.

The MoveOn.org Voter Fund has announced plans to air commercials shadowing the Bush campaign ads, but at lower levels.

"We're worried about being swamped with ads after Super Tuesday so we're going to do our best," said Wes Boyd, the group's founder.

That prompted a sharp attack by Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican Party.

"Who does Mr. Boyd mean exactly by we?" he asked. "Coordinating ad strategy with a presidential campaign ... is a defiant, knowing and willful violation of the law."

Boyd did not return a call for comment.

Cutter said the Kerry campaign is "not coordinating and we're not counting on them" for assistance.

The Media Fund, financed in part by billionaire George Soros, is expected to begin airing commercials in the next several days.

"The object is to give Democrats cover during a Republican advertising onslaught and to make sure that the national political environment stays favorable for Democrats everywhere," said Jim Jordan, who was Kerry's campaign manager until a staff shake-up last fall, and now is a spokesman for the Media Fund.

For his part, in addition to renewing fund-raising appeals to his own donors, Kerry hopes to gain access to lists of donors who contributed to his rivals.

Rep. Dick Gephardt has agreed, and Gen. Wesley Clark has offered assurances of assistance too, according to one campaign official. Sen. John Edwards, who drew heavy financial backing from fellow trial lawyers, has pledged "to do everything in my power" to help make Kerry the president.

Kerry and his former Democratic rivals are expected to appear at a party fund-raiser scheduled for March 25.

In addition, the Democratic National Committee is permitted to spend $16.25 million in coordination with the Kerry campaign.

"I'm here, we're armed, we're ready for battle," Democratic chairman Terence McAuliffe said in a recent interview.

At the same time, the more of the DNC money Kerry uses now, the less will be available after the convention, when Bush's re-election committee is expected to use the $16.25 million available from the Republican National Committee.

Kerry's challenge is compounded by the calendar, since the Democrats hold their convention in late July, five weeks before the GOP does.

The two candidates are limited to spending $74.4 million apiece after receiving their party's nominations, meaning that Kerry must make his money last longer than Bush does.

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