Candidate, party spending in '04 election cycle tops $1 billion

Friday, August 20th 2004, 8:38 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Spending by presidential and congressional candidates and the national party committees that support them already tops $1 billion for the 2004 election cycle, with more than two months of campaigning to go.

President Bush alone devoted $209 million to his re-election effort through July, a campaign finance report he filed Friday shows.

His Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, spent nearly $150 million through June, and an additional $37.8 million in July, according to a report released Friday night.

In addition, Senate and House candidates spent $487 million from January 2003 through last June, and national party committees burned through more than $400 million, their reports covering the 18-month period show.

The spending tops mid-election year levels in 2002 and 2000, when national party committees could still raise corporate, union and unlimited donations known as soft money.

Under a law that took effect starting with this election cycle, the biggest contribution they can collect is $25,000 from an individual _ limited donations known as hard money _ and corporate and union contributions are banned. Individuals can give up to $2,000 to a presidential or congressional candidate under the law, which doubled that limit.

``The parties and the presidential campaigns have just been hard-money machines,'' said Bob Biersack, a spokesman for the FEC who tracks campaign fund raising and spending. ``On the presidential side it's both ends: money in those $2,000 increments, but it's also a lot of small contributions for Bush and Kerry. And I think the same is true for the parties.''

In addition, nonparty groups that can still collect soft money are spending tens of millions on ads and get-out-the-vote efforts.

In the presidential race, advertising has been the single biggest expense, accounting for at least $116 million of Bush's spending and at least $93 million of Kerry's.

About $38 million of the nearly $46 million Bush spent last month was devoted to ads. Bush's July spending was the highest it has been since he launched the first ad blitz of his re-election effort in March.

Mailings and related costs have been another big expense for Bush, accounting for at least $30 million, followed by campaign staff, consultants and related costs, at least $16 million.

The Bush campaign raised $14 million in July, about as much as it has been taking in each month since it stopped holding fund-raising events in April and continued accepting donations through the mail and over the Internet.

Bush took in a record $242 million from the official start of his campaign in May 2003 through last month. He started August with $32.5 million left and about $458,000 in bills to pay.

Bush is on pace to break the $250 million mark by the time his primary fund-raising concludes with his nomination Sept. 2 at the Republican National Convention in New York.

As Kerry did, Bush is expected to accept $75 million in full government financing for his general-election campaign. That means once he is nominated by his party, he can no longer spend private donations on campaign expenses, though he can continue raising them to cover legal and accounting costs.

Kerry's campaign said he raised $233.5 million through the end of his convention, including $9 million in online donations during the last two days of the party gathering in Boston.

Both candidates will benefit from support by their national party committees, which can each spend about $16 million in coordination with their presidential candidate and unlimited amounts independent of him.