Already Awash in Campaign Cash, Bush Aims to Swell War Chest
Published on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 by the Boston Globe
Bush Aims to Swell War Chest
by Anne E. Kornblut

WASHINGTON -- Already awash in more campaign cash than all his Democratic rivals combined, President Bush is focusing his reelection efforts on building an even bigger war chest by year's end -- a strategy past presidents have used to guarantee their reelection.

Bush, according to financial disclosure reports, spent $6.7 million on fund-raising between July and September.

His campaign's overall expenditures during that period, $11.9 million, were relatively low compared with the nearly $50 million he raised. But Bush's focus on fund-raising has far outpaced similar efforts by Democratic candidates and is expected to yield huge returns next year.

"He's spending money to raise money," said Dwight L. Morris, a campaign finance analyst. In terms of money in the bank, Morris added, "the Democrats aren't even in the same league."

The strategy is not simply about raising as much money as possible, according to Republican strategists. It also keeps the campaign staff energized in the relatively quiet winter months, when there is no Republican advertising effort and most of the attention is on the Democratic primary race. And the push for money now gets the tedious task of fund-raising out of the way early, freeing Bush to concentrate on campaigning next year while his Democratic opponent is desperate for cash.

"It costs money to do fund-raising, and that's all they're doing," Republican strategist Scott Reed said of the Bush-Cheney team. "Wisely, they're keeping the organization stimulated over the winter to keep them fresh. If everybody just sat around, one-third of the good people would take on local races some place else."

Bush campaign strategists say that they are spending at a far slower pace than in 2000, and their financial disclosure forms indicate that with much more money coming in than going out, they are hoarding their resources until the beginning of next year. Still, there are some notable expenses, from the more than $1.1 million the Bush campaign spent on media efforts -- without ever purchasing any air time on television or radio -- to the $55,304 spent on monthly parking fees.

"In my next life, I want to come back as a Republican media consultant," said Jim Jordan, the campaign manager for Senator John F. Kerry, a Democratic candidate.

Maverick Media, the small firm created by media adviser Mark McKinnon exclusively to work for Bush's presidential campaign, drew in $875,000 in the third quarter -- and Bush wasn't even running ads, usually one of the largest expenses in a campaign. McKinnon declined to say how the money was used, a standard practice among political consultants who want to retain an element of surprise.

Both Republican and Democratic strategists expect Bush to begin his media effort in full no earlier than January. But when the blitz begins, Bush is expected to dominate the airwaves for weeks on end, in an effort to set the agenda based on issues he prefers.

"If they are spending money on media and media-related expenses now, that probably means they intend to mount an aggressive media campaign at the beginning of 2004, while the Democrats are battling it out amongst themselves," said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked for Vice President Al Gore in 2000. "They want to define the race on their terms while they have the capacity to do so. We saw it [with the Clinton reelection campaign] in '96, and to a degree in 2000. The Bush folks were out there spending gobs of money in comparison to the Gore campaign, which had almost run out of money by the end of the primary."

Bush campaign officials argue that their aggressive strategy is necessary, given the massive assistance the Democrats are usually given by labor unions and other outside interest groups. "The campaign believes that we will have a great amount of spending by not only these Democratic candidates, but many of the new soft money groups who have committed to raising unprecedented amounts of money to defeat this president," said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel. "We are expecting a close race, so we are raising the resources to pay for grass-roots activities, voter registration, and to get the president's message out."

Overall, the Bush team has raised just over $84.6 million since the start of the campaign, according to financial disclosure forms that report campaign finances through the end of September. An analysis by Morris's research group showed that the Bush campaign has spent $14.3 million of that so far, $8 million of which went to fund-raising. According to the campaign, that "burn rate" -- the amount spent compared with the total raised -- is much lower than it was at this point in 2000, by which time Bush had spent 35 percent of its funds. Today, the campaign has spent about 17 percent, much less than the Democratic rivals.

Reed, the Republican strategist who ran the presidential campaign of Bob Dole in 1996, said the current campaign is set to follow the same pattern eight years later -- except with the GOP winning. President Clinton effectively began his campaign in 1995, with the help of ads run by labor unions more than a year before the election, Reed said, which made Dole seem weak by comparison.

"We were broke in April," after the '96 primaries ended, Reed said. "This campaign is the reverse of what happened to us last time, and I remember how hard it was. . . . We had enough money to operate [but not buy ads], but the press corps was enthralled that we had only $2 million. It hurts you with your base voters, because it makes your party think maybe you can't win. The Democrats are going to go through the same thing."

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company