When Gary Hart jumped back into the Democratic presidential race yesterday, he told the New Hampshire crowd that his new campaign would be different, in part, because "I don't have any money."
But it is likely that Hart could qualify for more than $1 million in federal matching funds if he resubmits his documentation.
The Federal Election Commission ruled in June that Hart wasn't eligible for matching funds because he was no longer an active candidate when his campaign committee applied for the financing on May 18. He dropped out of the race May 8.
Fred Eiland, an FEC spokesman, said yesterday that "since Hart was declared ineligible, the only way for him to go is to file again for eligibility." To qualify, a candidate must prove that he has received at least $5,000 in donations of $250 or less from 20 states.
Hart could simply ask that the same May 18 list be reconsidered, Eiland said, but he couldn't say whether that would be accepted. "That's up to the commission. We've not had a situation like this before. The commissioners have always leaned to be as helpful to a candidate as possible. But they also have tried to be as cautious about public funding as possible."
Once he is certified as eligible for $100,000, Hart would have to submit additional documentation to get the rest of the estimated $1 million in matching funds.
Hart's campaign committee, Friends of Gary Hart-1988 Inc., has continued to file reports with the FEC. As of Sept. 30, it showed $53,625 in debt and $101,569 in cash. Most of the cash, however, was tied up in a court case in Denver brought by creditors from his 1984 campaign that has yet to be settled.
Eiland said FEC records show that Hart's 1984 campaign committee still owes $1.1 million. Hart's 1988 committee had asked the FEC for an advisory opinion on whether he could use matching funds from this race to pay off these 1984 debts. But Eiland said the issue was considered moot when Hart was declared ineligible for the public funds last summer.
In his announcement yesterday, Hart noted that he had no national staff or headquarters, and that was apparent from a spot-check of his financial apparatus. His campaign treasurer, Michael R. Moore, said he would be resigning because he had moved to Los Angeles and didn't have time to serve. Don Simon, an attorney who did Hart's FEC compliance work, said he had joined the campaign of Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.).
A top fund-raiser, Marvin Rosen of Miami, signed on recently to help Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. Two other major fund-raisers, Eli Segal of Boston and William Batoff of Philadelphia, said yesterday that Hart had discussed his hopes of getting back in the race with them over the past few weeks. He asked for their advice, but didn't ask them to raise money, they said.
Segal, who was Hart's finance chairman, said he told Hart, " 'If you want to serve you have no alternative but to run. It's the only way. Whether you want all the pain that comes with it, I don't know.' "
Asked if he was ready to try to raise funds for Hart again, Segal said, "It's unclear how he plans to run for president, but I would be willing to." He said it was possible Hart would try to run a low-budget campaign that amounted mostly to being able to pay for plane tickets to the Democratic debates.
Batoff, who has been courted by the other Democratic candidates, called Hart's reentry "a gutsy thing to do. I'm looking forward to it. It brings excitement back to this campaign."