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Focus Shifts From Voters to Donors

Politics: Bush, after spending heavily to win primaries, will try to refill war chest. Gore, hampered by fund-raising limits, will seek money for DNC.


WASHINGTON — With their parties' nominations secured, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush will now turn their attention from collecting primary votes to trolling for campaign cash.

Yet the challenges and possibilities facing each candidate differ sharply. Gore is focused on raising money for the Democratic National Committee while Bush is seeking new donors to his own campaign.

For Bush, who turned down public funds for his primary campaign and, therefore, faces no spending limits, the question is where to find supporters who haven't already contributed the maximum $1,000 to his once bulging but now depleted war chest.

He is planning a series of fund-raising events to bring in as much as $10 million by the end of April, according to Bush campaign finance chairman Donald Evans.

The fund-raising quest for Gore, who already has raised almost as much money as he's allowed for the primary season, is filling the coffers at the DNC, which his campaign will have to rely on as his own funds dry up.

Candidates Now Equal After Huge Bush Lead

The two presumptive nominees now have almost equal amounts of campaign funds. Bush spent all but $10 million of his record $70-million war chest during his competitive Republican primary campaign against Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Gore, however, spent less than expected because challenger Bill Bradley's campaign faded early. That left Gore's campaign with $3.7 million last week and it expected to receive an additional $7.3 million in matching funds from the Federal Election Commission, the aide said, for a total of $11 million.

"We were able to contain costs across the board, particularly in TV advertising," one senior Gore aide said.

Limited by federal election law to spending a total of $40.5 million before the party conventions this summer, the Gore campaign is working to raise the final $2.5 million in contributions it is allowed during the primary. Aides have planned two fund-raisers this week and another later in the month.

"The lion's share is going to be [spent] moving the candidate around the country," the Gore aide said.

Gore plans to attend eight fund-raising events for the DNC over the next few weeks that will try to raise both hard-money donations and the large, unlimited soft-money contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals, according to a party official.

Gore's Efforts Could Draw Criticism

Parties are allowed to spend soft money contributions to promote Democratic issues and encourage the party's voters to participate--but not to directly assist an individual candidate. The narrow distinction, however, was at the heart of fund-raising controversies that surrounded the party's 1996 presidential campaign.

Although helping raise party funds has become par for the course for major party candidates, Gore could encounter a political minefield by working to raise money for his party.

Bush already has begun hammering the vice president for his 1996 appearance at a Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif., his connection to recently convicted Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia and his "no controlling legal authority" defense of fund-raising calls he made in 1996 from his White House office.

Gore also could be haunted by his challenge to Bush to spurn soft money.

"It opens him up to the attack Bush is making that he's a hypocrite and undermines what he's saying on the [campaign] trail, which is that he's learned from his mistakes," said Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College in Maine. "Any effort he makes to raise soft money will be met with intense scrutiny."

But Gore aides say the vice president can weather the criticism.

"That's part of the role of the nominee: to help raise money for the party," said Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway. "There will be a schedule [of DNC fund-raisers]--unless George Bush says he'll join us in banning soft money."

"I think voters believe the [campaign finance] system needs fixing and that both parties have had troubles with it," Hattaway added.

Both parties are racing to raise more funds. President Clinton raised more than $6 million for the DNC this year. Gore raised $5.5 million for the party last year, a party official said.

A Democratic Party official declined to say how much money the DNC has on hand, but it is believed to be far less than the Republican National Committee.

At the end of February, the RNC had $15 million, said spokesman Mike Collins. The party is determined to prevent a replay of 1996, when the DNC spent millions of dollars on issue ads in the spring and early summer, boosting Clinton's prospects against Republican Bob Dole.

"We're not going to allow them to run an unanswered media campaign like they did last time," Collins said.

Bush has no plans to headline fund-raising events for the RNC--but not because he's opposed to soft money.

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