Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan said today there should be no federal restrictions on the amount of money a presidential candidate is allowed to raise. He declined, however, to say whether he would follow John B. Connally's example and turn down federal funds for his 1980 presidential race.
"I don't believe in government funding," Reagan said at a planeside news conference here.
It was the first time that Reagan, who accepted federal matching funds for his 1976 race against then-president Gerald R. Ford, had acknowledged that he was acting against his own principles in taking government money. He would be eligible for up to $7 million in government matching funds for the 1980 primaries if his campaign raises a similar amount.
The working premise of the Reagan campaign this time, at least until Connally rejected matching funds Wednesday, has been that the former California governor would take the matching money. This is still the premise, as Reagan press secreatry Jim Lake made clear today.
"We've been going on the assumption that matching funds would be accepted, but we don't have to make that decision now, and we're not going to until we have to," Lake said.
There is concern in the Reagan camp that Connally might, in words that Lake used Wednesday, try to "buy the election" by spending massive amounts of money in early primary states. If Reagan chooses to accept the federal funds, he will be bound by rigid spending limitations in each state as well as an overall spending limit.
The Reagan strategists realize that there are potential problems in declining federal funds as well as in accpting them. They pointed to an editorial in this morning's edition of The St. Petersburg Times, accusing Connally, in words similar to those used by Reagan staffers, of trying to purchase the election by unlimited spending.