Kerry considers delaying acceptance of nomination

Tactic is one of several weighed to extend time for unrestricted spending

May 22, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is considering delaying formal acceptance of his party's nomination in order to postpone the spending limits that kick in once he does.

The Kerry campaign disclosed yesterday that it is mulling this unprecedented move because the nominating convention dates give President Bush a five-week advantage in spending unrestricted amounts of money before the conventions.

Although no final decision has been made by the presumptive Democratic nominee, "you bet Democrats will consider many options to help level the playing field," Kerry spokesman David Wade said.

The Democrats hold their convention July 26-29 in Boston, and the Republicans meet Aug. 30-Sept. 2 in New York, the dates dictated, in part, to avoid conflicting with the summer Olympics in August.

Under the laws governing the federal financing of presidential campaigns, each candidate is limited to roughly $75 million in federal funds once he accepts his party's nomination.

If Kerry is nominated in July and Bush in September, the Democratic challenger would be limited to the federal funds while the president could continue to raise and spend money from private sources five weeks longer than his rival.

Bush and Kerry have already made history in presidential politics, becoming the first candidates in their parties since the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms to opt out of public financing available to candidates who accept spending limits during the presidential primaries.

Kerry would be venturing further into new territory if he decides to delay his formal acceptance of his party's nomination until after the nominating convention.

He could also help undermine the campaign finance reforms of the modern presidential campaign era.

"It's another nail in the coffin of public financing for presidential campaigns," said Craig Crawford, an analyst for cable TV news outlet CNBC and Congressional Quarterly magazine. "The idea of public financing is to prevent the corrupting role of private contributions. But President Bush has raised $200 million in private campaign funds, and now Kerry wants to delay his own official nomination to allow five more weeks to raise private donations."

The Federal Election Commission, which is charged with overseeing election financing, could be called upon for advice. But the FEC has no previous advisory opinions upon which to rely.

"This type of situation has never come up before," said Federal Election Commission spokesman George Smaragdis.

The FEC spokesman explained that the law states the general election campaign begins Sept. 1 or when a major party nominates its presidential candidate at its convention.

Smaragdis said the commission would have to decide whether the nomination would be interpreted as when delegates vote to give it or when the nominee accepts it.

Kerry campaign officials said they had not looked into the details of delaying Kerry's acceptance because it was only one of several options in the early stages of consideration.

"We are looking at this and many other options very seriously because we won't fight with one hand behind our back," Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said yesterday.

Cutter said other options being considered include having the Democratic National Committee or local and state Democratic parties raise money to support Kerry's candidacy.

Kerry would not have control of much of the money raised by the party. By law, the DNC cannot coordinate more than roughly $16 million of spending with Kerry's campaign in the general election.

Political analysts questioned the wisdom of Kerry's delaying acceptance of the nomination.

"This is very unwise," said Larry Sabato, founder of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It will appear to most people to be an evasion of the rules. As every sports fan knows, you don't change the rules in the middle of the game."

The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign pounced upon the reports that Kerry is considering a delay in accepting his party's nomination.

"Only John Kerry could be for a nominating convention but be against the nomination," said Bush re-election campaign manager Ken Mehlman. "This is just the latest example of John Kerry's belief that the rules are for other people, not for him."

Moreover, added Sabato, "What's to stop Bush from then turning around and saying, `What's good for the goose is good for me'? Bush could delay his acceptance speech for a month after his convention."

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