Bush Campaign Spending Soars
By Susan B. Glasser and Dan Balz
New reports filed with the Federal Election Commission yesterday documented a spending surge by the Bush campaign as he enters a pitched battle with free-spending millionaire Steve Forbes (R). Already, Bush has laid out more than $19 million this year to Forbes's $18.9 million – the most ever spent at this point in a presidential race.
But while Forbes has subsidized more than half out of his own pocket, the Texan is just starting to spend his record $57 million fund-raising haul – and still has $37 million, or two-thirds of his total, left in the bank.
Yesterday's reports offered a very different financial picture in the Democratic presidential contest. Vice President Gore's newly downsized campaign revealed details about a high-spending operation that not only has less money in the bank than Democratic rival Bill Bradley's but also may run up against spending limits in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire well before any votes are cast next year.
Two weeks after Gore announced he was moving his headquarters to Nashville and cutting back on his roster of high-paid consultants, the vice president's FEC report documented how he has managed to spend nearly 60 percent of the $24.3 million he has raised this year. After spending 45 percent of his $19.2 million raised, Bradley now has $10.7 million left in his bank account, compared with $10.3 million for Gore.
That spate of early spending may matter more in the Democratic race because both candidates are bound by the state-by-state spending ceilings that are a condition of receiving public matching funds. Both Bush and Forbes have opted out of that system, forgoing as much as $13 million in federal money in order to be free to spend unlimited amounts.
Just this week, the Gore campaign announced a major new spending decision: a wave of early television ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. But yesterday's reports showed that Gore already had spent $264,000 against the $1.1 million primary spending limit in Iowa – and that didn't include the $244,000 the Bradley campaign estimates that Gore is spending there on the new round of ads.
So, more than three months before the Iowa caucuses, Gore will have spent close to half the money he is allowed in the state. Bradley, in contrast, reported spending just $52,000 so far in Iowa. The Gore campaign also reported spending $129,000 – to Bradley's $29,000 – in New Hampshire, where the spending cap is $661,000.
Gore spokeswoman Kiki Moore refused to comment on any problems that might cause down the road, except to say, "The campaign has a strategy that will be successfully executed within the structure of the laws on campaign spending."
But there were many sharp reminders of their spending disparity in the reports. Gore, for example, had a stable of several pollsters, laying out $161,000 in the last three months just for the services of chief White House pollster Mark Penn before letting him go at the beginning of October. Bradley's lone pollster, Diane Feldman, received $18,000 this quarter.
In an interview yesterday with Washington Post reporters and editors, Gore played down the surprising strength of Bradley's fund-raising, pointing out that he has the overall lead. "We have broken the records on fund-raising," he said, "except for Bush." He also defended the high rate of spending, saying "We have invested in setting up a national organization in key states and running a national campaign."
Gore cited the advantage he expects to have over Bradley in federal matching funds. Although Bradley has a bigger bank account now, the vice president claimed he would qualify for millions of dollars more in public money because he has raised more of his funds from small donors. But Bradley spokesman Eric Hauser hotly disputed that last night, saying Gore was incorrect about the disparity.
Gore also suggested that voters may "discount" the impact of a candidate like Bush "who has piled up a huge amount of money," adding, "There are many examples in American politics of a candidate with a lavish amount of money finding it difficult to translate that into support."
Bush's filings show a campaign spending freely on everything from the Iowa straw poll to its yet-to-be-launched television advertising campaign in New Hampshire. It spent more than $1 million merely to process the $20.2 million the campaign raised from July to the end of September. Comparable details about spending were not made available by the Forbes campaign.
Bush spent close to $1 million to win the Iowa straw poll last August, aides said at the time. The latest filing shows where some of it went. The campaign paid about $273,000 to the Iowa Republican Party for the $25 tickets that were given out to Bush supporters, plus $50,000 to reserve a choice piece of land next to the Ames coliseum for a barbecue and entertainment. In addition to chartering buses for backers, the campaign laid out another $65,000 to a Minnesota caterer to feed them.
Bush's team already has plunked down $600,000 at WMUR-TV in Manchester, N.H., for ads that will run before the Feb. 1 primary and has paid its media consulting firm $425,000 for production costs even though Bush has yet to air his first ad. By prepaying, the Bush campaign has guaranteed itself time on New Hampshire's crowded airwaves.
That is just one area where the Bush campaign has invested for the future. Already, Bush has paid two telemarketing firms, including one owned by GOP consultant and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, about $270,000 to identify likely Bush supporters in such key early states as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Even as Bush and Forbes engage in an unprecedented spending duel, the rest of the GOP field is battling even to stay financially afloat. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has $2.1 million still in the bank after raising $3.1 million in the third quarter, putting him in front of the rest of the pack. Elizabeth Dole raised less in the last three months than in the previous quarter, $1.3 million, and still had $860,000 on hand.
Database editor Sarah Cohen and staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
© 1999 The Washington Post Company