BUSH
Ron Edmonds  /  AP file
President Bush speaks last month at a Bush-Cheney 2004 fund-raising luncheon in McLean, Va.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 1/7/2004 1:47:27 PM ET 2004-01-07T18:47:27

As he seeks a second term in the White House, President Bush’s re-election effort raised a record-breaking $130.8 million last year, campaign manager Ken Mehlman announced Wednesday.

The Bush campaign has amassed nearly $100 million in cash on hand for use in the primary season, even though Bush faces no primary opponent.

Bush will be able to use the money to run ads criticizing the Democratic nominee once the Democratic nomination is clinched, in all likelihood no later than mid-March.

Nearly half a million gave
Mehlman touted the campaign’s extensive reach with 494,000 individual donors, more than a 40 percent increase over the total number of individual donors it had in the 1999-2000 campaign.

“We are making history today in the number of grass-roots donors the campaign has received, for the scope and breadth of those donors, and the amount raised,” Mehlman told reporters.

Democratic front-runner Howard Dean’s campaign has said it has more than 250,000 individual donors. 

Mehlman said that 415,000 of the 494,000 Bush donors, or 84 percent, chipped in less than $200 each.

The average contribution to the Bush campaign was $211. The maximum amount an individual is permitted to give is $2,000 per candidate per election.

Almost of 400,000 of the contributors to the Bush re-election effort are new donors, having not contributed to his campaign in 2000.

Volunteer solicitors
As it did in 2000, the Bush campaign has been successful in using volunteer fund solicitors who agree to urge their friends and associates to give money to the Bush campaign.

The fund-soliciting groups are classified as:

  • Rangers: 124 individuals so far who have helped raise a total of $200,000 or more.
  • Pioneers: 216 individuals who have helped raise $100,000 or more.
  • Mavericks: 27 people under the age of 40 who have helped raise $50,000 or more.

Together the three fund-raising cadres have gathered approximately $50 million, or about 38 percent of the total Bush campaign receipts.

The Bush campaign’s goal is to raise a total of between $150 million and $170 million for the months of the campaign that precede the two parties’ national conventions late this summer. Both the Democratic and Republican general election campaigns, which will start after the national conventions, will be paid for by taxpayer funds, with each major-party candidate getting about a $74 million subsidy.

In addition, outside advocacy groups favoring or opposing the candidates will spend millions of dollars.

"If you truly want to compare what is being spent on both sides, you need to compare it with what the third-party, soft-money groups are spending on the other (anti-Bush) side, who have said they will spend $400 million or $500 million to defeat the president," Mehlman said. "To say that the Bush campaign is way outpacing its rivals, I think, is wrong."

Mehlman was referring to groups such as Americans Coming Together and Moveon.org, which will work through advertising and grass-roots voter contact effort to oust Bush from the White House.

For the fourth quarter of 2003, Mehlman said, the Bush campaign had raised $32 million at events at which the president, first lady Laura Bush, or other officials appeared, another $14 million through direct mail solicitations, and $1 million through its web site.

In the 1999-2000 election cycle, when Bush faced competition from Sen. John McCain and several others, his campaign had raised $67 million by the end of 1999.

As he did in 2000, Bush has decided to not accept federal matching funds to pay for his primary campaign.

Opting out of limits
Those matching funds come with spending limits attached. Like Bush, Dean has opted out of the matching fund/spending limit system. Dean raised about $40 million last year, far outpacing any of the eight other Democratic presidential hopefuls.

In every nominating contest since 1980, with only one exception, the contender in each party who has raised the most money in the year before the primaries ended up winning the nomination.

Larry Noble, the former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission who is now head of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington group that tracks campaign money, has said that any Democrat who clinched the party’s nomination in March but had burned up his campaign funds in defeating his rivals would face “a campaign finance desert” between that point and the convention in July.

This is the argument Dean used in explaining why he was reversing his previous position and opting out of the spending limit system.

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