Bradley Nearly Equals Gore in Size of Bankroll
By Ceci Connolly and Susan B. Glasser
New campaign finance reports, detailing the candidates' fund-raising and spending for the first half of 1999, revealed yesterday that Gore has spent far more than either Bradley or Bush, waging a consultant-laden campaign that spent heavily to raise the money it took in. Although Gore has raised $17.5 million -- about $1 million less than his campaign estimated two weeks ago -- he had just $9.3 million left, less than $2 million ahead of Bradley.
The broad outlines of the presidential candidates' fund-raising have been known since last month. But the reports filed yesterday offer a far more detailed picture of the massive money lead that Bush enjoys and document an alarming financial contest for Gore on the Democratic side. Bush raised a total of $37 million -- more than any presidential primary candidate ever -- but spent only $7.2 million on his frugal, hot-dogs-for-dinner operation.
Overall, Bush has spent only 19 percent of what he's raised, compared with 37 percent for Bradley and 46 percent for Gore.
With Bush raising more than all of his GOP rivals combined, several Republicans issued finance reports that put them on the political equivalent of life support -- former vice president Dan Quayle, Lamar Alexander and Gary Bauer all disclosed that their campaigns have more debt than money in the bank.
Bush's decision to opt out of the presidential matching funds system means that he will be able to spend as much as he can raise next year while giving up about $13 million in public money for the primary campaign. Under the post-Watergate system, his rivals each will have to adhere to an overall spending limit of about $40 million -- and strict state-by-state spending ceilings -- in exchange for the matching funds. Candidates receive up to $250 in matching funds for each individual contribution.
In Iowa yesterday, Bush said he was breaking with the public financing system for tactical reasons. "I want to be able to respond," he said, citing the self-financing of Republican Steve Forbes, who has put more than $6 million into his campaign already and also will reject federal funds.
Forbes's campaign yesterday dismissed the Bush move as sheer opportunism, while longtime campaign reform advocate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who is a distant second to Bush among Republicans with about $6.3 million raised so far this year, said, "Bush may be unintentionally adding to the already widespread cynicism of the American people regarding the influence of special-interest money in politics."
On the Democratic side, the Gore team once believed money would be one of the vice president's greatest assets. At the start of the year, there was heady talk of bankrolling $55 million by early 2000. But Gore has had trouble building a cohesive, affordable campaign team and Bradley has turned out to be a formidable fund-raiser in his own right.
In the second quarter alone, Gore raised about $8.7 million (plus $888,000 for legal and accounting costs) but spent $6 million. The bulk of his money went to direct mail firms and consultants of every stripe -- pollsters, communications gurus, media strategists, computer experts and fund-raising consultants. The vice president's team spent about $1 million on catering, including more than $100,000 at New York's opulent Pierre Hotel.
Campaign spokesman Roger Salazar said Gore was making investments that would pay off later. "We are building our organization on the ground in New Hampshire and Iowa; we had the announcement tour," he said. "We are doing all the things we need to do to build a winning campaign."
Salazar said there were no plans to refine the campaign's fund-raising blueprint or budget: "Our fund-raising is right on target and right where we expected it to be."
One disillusioned Gore fund-raiser said he was not surprised by the results: "They keep changing the plan; I don't know if I am going to stick with them."
"I'm surprised Gore has spent as much as he has," said Herb Alexander, a campaign finance expert and professor emeritus at the University of Southern California. "What I think that means is he's had . . . to spend significantly in order to remain viable and in the process he's not conserving a great deal of money for the really crucial primaries and caucuses next year."
Gore himself mused publicly about the money crunch Monday night in Iowa. Referring to the GOP and Bush, he said: "They've raised all this money and they're not even slowing down. We need to keep our powder dry, conserve our resources, develop as much unity of purpose as we can."
Bradley, a former forward for the New York Knicks, trounced Gore in a handful of key money states in the past three months. In California, Bradley outraised Gore $1.6 million to $1 million. In New York, he collected more than twice as much as the vice president, $1.4 million to Gore's $597,000. Bradley was so strong in New York that he edged out Bush there -- perhaps the only state not entirely dominated by the Texan, who raised $1.3 million.
Bush found one-quarter of his financial support in Texas -- for a total of almost $7.2 million in the second quarter. Other top states for Bush were California and Florida, which is governed by Bush's brother Jeb. After that came the Washington, D.C. area: Bush collected $2.3 million last quarter in the District, Virginia and Maryland.
Although the Bush campaign touted the fact that its average contribution was $467, a Washington Post analysis found that 80 percent of the campaign's itemized contributions in the past quarter were the maximum $1,000 -- an indication of the success of Bush's series of fund-raising events around the country last month. Gore, despite investing far more money in seeking out smaller donations through the mail, also collected 80 percent of his second-quarter funds in $1,000 checks.
Unlike the other major candidates, Bush did not file an electronic report with the Federal Election Commission yesterday, so precise information about his spending was not available. Campaign officials said their relative frugality was by design.
"There is a concerted effort at this campaign to recognize that how much you raise is not the only thing that matters," said Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker. "We're going to need this money next year."
Besides Forbes, McCain and Elizabeth Dole appear to be the other Republicans with the money to compete in the early contests next year. Dole, who raised $2.8 million, received 43 percent of her money from women -- far exceeding the 25 percent that is standard for federal campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Among the several candidates in the red, Alexander is in an especially precarious situation. Although he raised $1.8 million in the second quarter, he reported just $90,000 cash on hand but more than twice that in debts. Alexander has moved much of his campaign team to Iowa, and this month he is cruising the state in a Winnebago in an attempt to visit 60 counties before next month's Iowa straw poll.
When asked if the campaign was still alive, one Alexander adviser invoked a bit of gallows humor: "We're holding a mirror up to its mouth to see if it's still breathing."
Database editor Sarah Cohen and staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company