Edwards to Accept Public Financing

John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, challenged his Democratic rivals to value ideas over fundraising prowess.
John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, challenged his Democratic rivals to value ideas over fundraising prowess. (By Neal Hamberg -- Bloomberg News)
By Anne E. Kornblut and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 28, 2007

Former senator John Edwards said yesterday that he will accept public financing in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, a move that will provide a short-term infusion of cash for his campaign but severely limit his ability to spend in crucial early primary contests.

He is the second candidate to express interest in accepting public financing during the primaries. The decision could result in a windfall of as much as $10 million for his candidacy in January, Edwards aides said.

The North Carolina Democrat raised about $23 million during the first six months of the year, a figure that would have been impressive in any past campaign but paled compared with the record-setting amounts raked in by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who have each easily topped the $50 million mark.

By opting into the public financing system, Edwards will be eligible to receive matching funds of as much as $250 for each contribution an individual makes to his campaign. In return, he will face strict limits on his spending that could put him at a 10 to 1 spending disadvantage in primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. He will also be forbidden from contributing his own money to his bid.

While rival campaigns painted the decision as a clear signal that the 2004 vice presidential nominee was struggling to bring in money, Edwards presented the move as a challenge to his Democratic rivals to value ideas over fundraising prowess. "This campaign should not be a fundraising contest," he said on CNN. Under the matching system, Edwards will be allowed to spend $817,800 in New Hampshire in the run-up to the primary contest there. In Iowa, the limit is just under $1.5 million. In both states, even after the primaries are over, Edwards cannot exceed those limits until the Democratic National Convention -- months after a head-to-head contest with the Republican nominee is expected to begin.

By the time June ended, Edwards had already spent $258,968 in New Hampshire and $535,169 in Iowa -- in both instances, about a third of the total allowed. The bulk of a candidate's spending typically comes in the weeks leading up to Election Day, when he or she faces the highest field and advertising expenses. By some estimates, Clinton and Obama may each spend more than $10 million in Iowa alone.

Edwards and his top advisers said they examined at length at the question of how public financing would affect their chances in the primaries. Senior adviser Joe Trippi said yesterday that they concluded they could be in a stronger position with the public money providing a potential infusion of more than $10 million in January that "nobody expected we would have."

Trippi, who said the campaign would report raising about $7 million in the third quarter and having between $8 million and $9 million in cash, discounted concerns about the spending limits. He said there were so many exemptions to the restrictions that the limits were not a serious concern. He also argued that the campaign would be able to get by with fewer television advertisements than their rivals because the campaign would be relying more heavily on its field operations.

Trippi also disputed that his approach to this campaign contradicts his statements about public money.

While leading Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2003, Trippi told The Washington Post that this "campaign believes that any Democratic campaign that opted into the matching-funds system has given up on the general election," Trippi said. "There is absolutely no way you can sustain the hits that are going to come from now until August with a $45 million limit."

"I know my quotes are out there," he said yesterday. "It's a different time. A different year."

Trippi leveled a blast at Clinton, who has repeatedly told the voters that the only way to eliminate the influence of money in Washington is through public financing but who has declined to participate in the system.

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