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THE NATION

Bush Files Records for Recount Bid: $13.8 Million

July 28, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — When the 2000 presidential election ended in a virtual deadlock, George W. Bush quickly raised nearly $14 million to help him win the Florida recount, taking in money so quickly it surprised even his own staff.

"I think we were a little bit stunned by the amount we received," said Benjamin Ginsberg, a Bush attorney for the recount.

According to documents filed by Bush, the campaign took in $13.8 million, most of it through donations of $5,000 or less. Democrat Al Gore raised less than one-fourth as much, but generally in larger contributions.

The Gore campaign, which filed its disclosures more than a year ago, spent $3.2 million in its losing battle for Florida's 25 electoral votes, mostly from large gifts. Donors included Hollywood producer Stephen Bing, who gave Gore $200,000, and actress Jane Fonda, who gave $100,000.

The Gore campaign had no comment Saturday on Bush's filings.

Bush's recount fund filed the required forms July 15, the last day of an IRS amnesty program for groups that don't comply, avoiding millions of dollars in possible fines.

"They obviously begrudgingly disclosed, and did it way after the fact," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "It's better than nothing, but it would have been better to have disclosed it when the money was coming in."

Ginsberg said there was no legal obligation to file the information with the IRS because the Bush recount effort was organized as part of the larger campaign, unlike Gore's recount effort. He noted that Bush had posted much of the information on the Internet months earlier. He said the more detailed figures were released to avoid controversy about donors.

"It takes an issue off the table," Ginsberg said.

The filings, a stack of documents about half a foot thick, show that Bush moved quickly to dispatch lawyers and staff members to Florida, Texas and elsewhere, booking hundreds of plane tickets, rental cars and hotel rooms.

Also, the campaign paid $13,000 to Enron Corp. and $2,400 to Halliburton Co. for the use of company jets.

"Eighteen months after the election, we find that the [Bush] administration literally flew into office on the Enron corporate jet," said Jennifer Palmieri, a press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. "As disclosed in this report, it is the administration's close ties with unscrupulous corporations like Enron and Halliburton that prevent it from showing real leadership on corporate reform."

"We used a lot of corporate jets," Ginsberg said, adding that the campaign paid the equivalent of a first-class airline ticket for each seat they needed.

Former Enron Chief Executive Kenneth L. Lay and his wife also each donated $5,000, according to the filings.

The campaign spent thousands of dollars on everything from catering to fast food to telephone service, buying groceries at a Winn-Dixie store in West Palm Beach and writing checks totaling $640.92 to House of Masquerades, a Miami costume shop. They bought U.S. flags and custom embroidery and rented furniture, office space and computers.

After refusing public funding for the 2000 GOP presidential primary, Bush raised a record $100 million to clinch the nomination.

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