Bush far outstrips rivals with record fund raising

$36.25 million doubles Gore, beats all GOP candidates combined

July 01, 1999|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- Blowing past all previous fund-raising records, Texas Gov. George W. Bush announced yesterday that he collected $36.25 million in contributions in the first four months of his presidential campaign.

That staggering total is more money than any previous contender has raised over the entire two-year period of a presidential primary campaign. It is nearly nine times as much as Bush's closest Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, was able to raise in the first six months of the year.

Bush's fund-raising success gives him an enormous advantage over his opponents. And it makes it likely that he will opt to forgo federal matching funds, freeing him from spending limits in next year's primaries and caucuses.

"This helps make the decision easier," Bush said, adding that he would make an announcement in about two weeks.

If he is able to spend without restrictions -- presidential candidates who accept federal subsidies cannot spend more than about $50 million -- Bush would be better able to compete against millionaire publisher Steve Forbes in the primaries. He could also get a head start on his Democratic opponent next year. In 1996, Forbes spent about $35 million of his own money on his presidential campaign; he is expected to invest a similar amount, or more, this time.

Bush described himself yesterday as "humbled," "gratified" and "amazed at the outpouring of support" from donors.

"I've got a lot of friends," he added, grinning. Bush spoke at a news conference after appearing at a teacher-training program in a mostly black and Hispanic neighborhood in south-central Los Angeles.

Bush aides are "still counting" the contributions, the governor said, before heading to fund-raisers in Sacramento and San Francisco, and the final total could rise slightly. Candidates must disclose their finances for the first six months of the year to the Federal Election Commission by July 15.

Bush's six-month total is nearly double that of Vice President Al Gore, who collected about $18.5 million.

And it is more than 2 1/2 times the $13.5 million raised by Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican nominee, who held the previous fund-raising record at this point in a presidential contest.

"Are you kidding me?" Roger Salazar, a Gore spokesman, said when told of the Bush tally, according to Reuters.

The impressive performance of the Bush fund-raising machine has made it increasingly difficult for his opponents to raise money. Still to come, when disclosure reports are filed, are the cash-on-hand totals for each campaign. They are expected to show that some of the Republican hopefuls are in debt.

Since launching his campaign in March, Bush has been collecting money at the rate of more than $9 million a month, or $300,000 a day. His $28.3 million intake for the quarter that ended yesterday exceeds, by nearly $7 million, the total raised by all of his Republican rivals combined this year.

In response to questions, the Texas governor defended himself against the assertion that big money is a corrupting force in American politics. But he offered only modest proposals for changing the current system.

"People are just going to have to develop a level of trust," he said. "If people think a candidate is going to be corrupted by a $1,000 contribution, then they shouldn't vote for that candidate."

Federal laws, enacted in the mid-1970s after the Watergate scandal, allow individuals to give a candidate up to $1,000 per election. Political action committees may contribute up to $5,000.

Bush said he favors more immediate public disclosure than current law requires. He wants candidates to make "instant" disclosure of campaign contributions on the Internet.

He said he also favors raising the contribution limits, which have not been adjusted for inflation in more than 20 years. But he has not specified an amount.

Bush would make small changes in the current system of "soft money" donations -- the unlimited, unregulated political money that flows to the major parties from wealthy individuals, corporations, labor unions and other special interests.

Some reformers, including a rival Republican presidential candidate, Senator McCain of Arizona, would ban all soft money. Bush would allow such money to continue flowing through state parties. But he would end corporate and labor union giving to political parties at the federal level, while allowing individual donations to continue unchecked.

Bush is midway through a three-day California swing that is expected to raise $4.3 million, including $2.3 million at a gala dinner held Tuesday in Los Angeles.

The campaign's finance chairman, Donald Evans, said that fund-raising events are marked on Bush's schedule into October. Among them is a July 14 event in Baltimore, which is expected to bring in $750,000.

Bush has raised more money in Texas -- $11.1 million -- than any of his Republican rivals has collected nationwide.

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