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Kerry weighs delaying nomination

John Kerry is considering not accepting the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s July convention so that he can keep spending the millions of dollars that he raised during the primaries, The Associated Press has learned.
John Kerry Addresses Students In Philidelphia
Once Kerry accepts his party's nomination, he'll be limited to spending about $75 million in federal funds.Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is considering delaying accepting his party’s nomination to gain time to raise and spend private contributions and lessen President Bush’s multimillion-dollar financial advantage, campaign officials said Friday.

The Democratic Party would still hold its national convention in Boston at the end of July. If Kerry were to delay acceptance of the nomination for a month, it would help even the financial playing field with Bush, who will be nominated at the Republican National Convention in New York five weeks later.

Kerry’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee are still considering the specifics of such a plan. Convention delegates could be asked to gather at a later time for a vote. Another option is holding the delegate vote at the convention but having Kerry put off his official acceptance of the vote, DNC spokeswoman Debra DeShong said, adding that there may be other possibilities.

Kerry and Bush are each expected to accept $75 million in full federal funding for their general election campaigns. Once each is nominated, he will be limited to spending the government money and can no longer raise or spend private contributions on the campaign.

“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 Friday. No timetable has been set for a decision, she said.

Cutter said other options being considered include having the DNC or local and state Democratic parties raise more money to support Kerry’s candidacy. Kerry would have no control over much of the money raised by the party. By law, the DNC can coordinate up to roughly $16 million to $18 million in spending with Kerry’s campaign in the general election.

Both candidates skipped public funds in primaries
Kerry and Bush skipped public financing for the primary-election season, enabling them to spend as much as they wish until their parties officially nominate them at conventions this summer.

Since becoming the party’s presumptive nominee in early March, Kerry has broken Democratic fund-raising and spending records. He raised roughly $31 million last month alone, pushing his campaign total to a Democratic record $117 million.

Kerry started May with $28 million in the bank, far less than Bush’s $72 million but still a Democratic record. Bush has raised more than $200 million so far.

The crucial question, should Kerry try to stop the clock from ticking on his $75 million general-election financing, is when Kerry is considered nominated in the eyes of the Federal Election Commission. Is it when delegates vote? Or when Kerry accepts their vote?

The FEC and courts have traditionally deferred to party rules to determine how a candidate is nominated, said Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel. The FEC provides the general-election financing after the candidate is nominated according to the party’s rules.

It’s possible the DNC could change its nominating procedures before the convention, such as deciding to have delegates vote later by mail or by proxy.

“I don’t see anything in the general election campaign laws that would stop the party from changing the nomination dates,” said Noble, now head of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

However, delaying the nomination could have implications for the roughly $14 million in government financing the DNC received to hold its nominating convention, he said.

Ramifications for convention financing?
The convention is defined as when the nomination takes place, Noble said. Having delegates vote in Boston, but Kerry put off his acceptance, might not pass muster, he said.

“They would have to come up with an argument that would basically look at the convention as continuing past the convention dates,” Noble said. “Could they do it? It’s possible. In the end it would be up to the FEC and possibly the courts, if it’s challenged.”

The Kerry campaign and DNC would be wise to ask the FEC’s advice before trying to change the nomination process, said FEC spokesman Bob Biersack, adding that the commission has not faced such a question before.

Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt said throwing a DNC convention with government money only to officially nominate Kerry later could amount to a “bait-and-switch tactic on the American taxpayer.”

“Maybe they’ve found a way to manipulate the federal law in such a way as to avoid that, but fundamentally this is about John Kerry thinking the rules that apply to everyone else don’t apply to him,” Holt said.

If Kerry is nominated in late July as the party planned, he will have to make his $75 million check last a month longer than Bush will. Because the Republican convention is timed later than the Democratic gathering, Bush would have about a month more to raise money from private contributors than Kerry.

When the Democratic Party scheduled its convention, it didn’t know it would have a nominee who opted out of public financing for the primaries and the $45 million spending limit the program imposes through the spring and summer.

Remembering the past
At the time, the party anticipated it would face the same situation it has in previous elections: a nominee who emerged from the primaries hovering at the spending limit and had to limp through several months awaiting the convention and the campaign-sustaining government financing.

Interest groups running ads in the presidential race are keeping a close eye on Kerry’s decision. The nation’s campaign finance law bans them from using corporate or union money on ads mentioning Kerry a month before he is officially nominated, with the same rules applying to ads mentioning Bush in advance of his party convention.

If Kerry delays his nomination, that could give outside groups more times to run ads for and against him using the so-called soft money, said David Keating, executive director of the anti-tax group Club for Growth, which opposes many of Kerry’s policies and supports many of Bush’s.

“It would be a really strange situation if the 30-day window closed 30 days before the nomination night and then they decided to kick it down the road a couple weeks,” Keating said. “It would be a ridiculous situation.”