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Bush to Boost War Chest With State Trip

October 15, 2003|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — When President Bush appears at two California fund-raisers today, a luncheon in Fresno and a reception in Riverside, he will be padding a campaign war chest already bulging with $70 million and well on a pace toward an all-time record.

Officials at the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign reported Tuesday that the president and his team had raised $83.9 million to date but spent less than $14 million -- a frugal 17% "burn rate" considerably below Bush's spending pace four years ago, when he was in a spirited fight for the Republican presidential nomination.

The slow pace of spending highlights an inherent advantage that an Oval Office incumbent always enjoys: His campaign can defray some of its cost because many of the president's political appearances around the country are piggybacked onto "official" events, which are paid for by the taxpayers.

In a news briefing via telephone conference call, campaign manager Ken Mehlman portrayed a fund-raising juggernaut with 262,000 contributors from virtually every county in the U.S. that he said reflected "a very broad base of support."

"We're about halfway there," he added, referring to the campaign's stated goal of collecting $150 million to $170 million in contributions -- all for use between now and next August, when Bush officially becomes the party's nominee and begins to collect federal funds for the general election. By eschewing federal matching funds for the primary campaign, Bush will avoid the spending limits that come with accepting public funds.

Because Bush is not facing a serious challenge for the GOP nomination this time, he is expected to sit on most of his campaign funds until next spring, when a Democratic nominee emerges, before unleashing a torrent of ads, mailers and other forms of electioneering.

Mehlman made no apologies for the campaign's aggressive fund-raising, arguing that "it's very possible we could get outspent." He was referring to the proliferation of special committees that are allowed to accept unlimited donations from corporations, unions and the wealthy -- precisely the sort of "soft money" contributions that federal candidates and the national political parties are now barred from receiving under the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law of 2002.

These "527" committees, so named because they are governed by a section of the tax code under that number, can spend money on behalf of candidates or issues but cannot give it to their campaigns. Democratic-leaning committees are out-raising Republican-favoring committees, $185 million to $81 million, according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity.

In 2000, when he was still governor of Texas, Bush raised a record $101 million. Some analysts say he might raise $200 million this time around, and Mehlman refused to entertain questions about whether the fund-raising would continue once the targeted $170 million was reached.

All campaigns are required to file their third-quarter fund-raising reports by tonight.

The report said Bush raised $49.5 million from July through September, with contributions coming from 3,115 out of 3,141 counties nationwide.

His third-quarter take is expected to eclipse the fund-raising efforts of the Democratic candidates combined. It is also believed a record for a presidential candidate; the previous high was $35.1 million, which Bush raised in the second quarter of this year, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Among the Democratic contenders for their party's presidential nomination, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was expecting to report raising about $15 million for the third quarter; Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts $4.5 million to $5 million; Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut about $4 million; and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina less than $4 million. Others declined to reveal their projections.

Bush is set to speak in Dinuba before the lunch in Fresno and evening reception at the Riverside Convention Center. He will spend the night in Riverside, where he is due to meet with California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, speak Thursday in San Bernardino, then leave for a week in Asia.

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