|FOLLOW THE MONEY|
July 15, 1999
Texas Governor George W. Bush's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been the richest in history. Jim Lehrer discusses 2000 primary fund-raising with three journalists and examines where all the presidential money is coming from.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the campaign money story. Presidential candidates
filed their midyear fund-raising reports today with the Federal Election
Commission. We get the numbers, and some perspective on the impact money
is having so far on the campaign, from three political reporters: Susan
Glasser of the Washington Post, Ron Brownstein of the Los
Angeles Times, and Elizabeth Arnold of National Public Radio.
Susan, let's first start with the numbers -- today's numbers. George W. Bush's numbers were the biggest. What were they?
SUSAN GLASSER, Washington Post: Well, as already noted a couple of weeks ago, Governor Bush has already raised more than any presidential primary candidate ever. The actual total turns out to be about $37 million raised so far, and he reported an equally surprising sum, which was $30 million in the bank, which means that in raising all that money, he actually only spent 20 percent of it, which is an incredibly lean and mean operation.
JIM LEHRER: And who's second? Is there a second and how far back is he? Or she?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, Vice President Gore is second. The Democrats are actually running, though, much closer than expected. Vice President Gore and Democrat Bill Bradley. Basically, there's only about $2 million separating them in a key area of the fundraising, which is how much money they actually have left to spend next year on the primaries.
JIM LEHRER: And what are the figures? The figure's what, around 19 for Vice President Gore and around 11 for Bill Bradley?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, it's actually 17.5 million for Vice President Gore in terms of what he raised for his primary campaign. He has a separate fundraising account that can't be used to fund his actual election expenses, and it was a little bit over $11 million for Bradley. But the gap is much narrower, as I said, in terms of what they actually have in the bank.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, back to the Republicans, who's next after George W. Bush?
|The other Republicans|
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, a very, very distant second -- you have to remember that Governor Bush actually raised more money than all of his rivals combined -- but a distant second is Senator John McCain, and he's got about a little bit more than $6 million for the year, including a transfer from his Senate campaign. And he also is second in terms of cash on hand, followed by Elizabeth Dole. And also, then, there's a separate category for Steve Forbes, who's already spent more than $6 million of his own money we learned today, financing this campaign.
JIM LEHRER: And he's raised some, too, in addition to that?
SUSAN GLASSER: Exactly. His total for the year is about $9.5 million, more than $6 million of which comes from his own pocket, so -
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, Ron, the development that came out of -- also came out of this today was that George W. Bush said, "Okay, I'm not going to take any matching funds." What's your reading of that have?
RON BROWNSTEIN, Los Angeles Times: Well, you know, he's in a position where he clearly can choose. He doesn't need the matching funds, so he has no real incentive to bind himself both by the spending limits, state by state, which will affect him in the primary and which he now will - you know -- be free from.
JIM LEHRER: Because if he had taken the matching funds -
RON BROWNSTEIN: If he had taken the matching funds, he would have had to abide by the Federal Election Commission restrictions and how much you can spend in each individual state. But even more importantly, Jim, he's trying to avoid the problem that Bob Dole ran into last time, which is spending up to the primary limit to win the nomination and then having this long period until the convention where you could not spend money, where only the party could spend on your behalf. Now he has the prospect of being able to put on - if he is the nominee - put on advertising all the way through the spring and summer while Al Gore might be in a position closer to Bob Dole, if he survives, where he's had to spend really up the primary limit just to get the nomination and thus legally cannot spend more until he is officially the nominee at the end of August. So that could be a competitive disadvantage for the Democrats if it plays out that way.
JIM LEHRER: And Elizabeth, I noticed that in announcing this today, George W. Bush said that one of the reasons he was going to do this is so he would have enough funds to fight off any primary advertising campaign. He's talking about Steve Forbes, right?
|Forbes challenging Bush|
ELIZABETH ARNOLD, National Public Radio: He is talking about Steve Forbes. Steve Forbes incidentally out there criticizing him for doing this and for basically being an insider and being beholden to all these special interests who he's raised this from money from. Well, Steve Forbes obviously has the luxury of that, but one of the reasons Governor Bush is doing that is because he knows he's up against Steve Forbes who has an unlimited amount of money. He can just keep giving himself, giving his campaign his own money and he'd be out there attacking Governor Bush, who would be subject to these spending limits, as Ron explained.
RON BROWNSTEIN: And the precedent, if I could just jump in, the precedent is that Forbes spent well beyond the spending limit in New Hampshire last time really pulverized Bob Dole with negative advertising there, and I think that's very much what Bush has in mind, that precedent, when he looks at avoiding being caught in that situation or being outspent in the critical early states.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Elizabeth, has there ever been a primary campaign where all the reporting was about money, rather than votes at this stage?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: That's really interesting. I mean it's as though the donors are sort of determining the shape of the race this early on, and who gets out of the gate first. They're giving to Bush the more they give to Bush, the more we right write about Bush and how formidable he is and the more people pile on and give to Bush. Senator Bradley's another great example. Senator Bradley is looking more credible now, which makes -
JIM LEHRER: But because of the money?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Because of the money. And that makes Vice President Al Gore not look as formidable because Bradley is becoming a challenger.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Susan, you've looked at - I know all three of you have, but where's this money coming from? This is a tremendous amount of money. You add up 37 million here and -- I mean there's a lot of money being contributed to an awful lot of candidates. Who's doing it?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, it's really interesting. I think there's a lot of puzzling around right now about whether Governor Bush has actually managed to expand the size of the Republican donor base in this country -- a lot of speculation about the flush economy, people writing bigger checks than they ever have before, up to the $1,000 limit, instead of say $250 a few years ago. Also, Governor Bush comes from an incredibly wealthy state with a huge base of contributors and nearly a third of his money overall has come from Texas, an overwhelming $11 million. So, I think it's important to look at that when you think about the totals.
JIM LEHRER: You made a good point, though, that we always have to make is that this can only -- all this money is going collected $1,000 at a time, I mean, or less. Nobody can contribute more than $1,000, no individual can, to a candidate.
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, that makes it a little bit ironic when you have Steve Forbes criticizing the Bush campaign for being bought and paid for by special interests, when of course there's no single contributor in this campaign bigger than $1,000. Where you really get that accusation maybe sticking a little bit more is what the Bush campaign has done with its Pioneers Program, which is a group of over 200 wealthy individuals who signed up to collect $100,000 or more. The campaign has refused to release the list of who these people are, but I think that's where you start to look at, you know, the incredible sort of amounts of influence. I mean well over $10 million has come from those solicitors.
JIM LEHRER: But they also -- they have to collect it $1,000 at a time, do they not?
SUSAN GLASSER: Exactly. Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Ron, what do you -- how would you answer the question where this money's coming from?
RON BROWNSTEIN: Well, I mean, I think first of all empirically it looks as though the pool is getting bigger. If you look at the comparable period in the last cycle, the first half of 1995, the Republican candidates as a group raised about $50 million, and it looks like it's going to be bigger than that this time, maybe $60 million. Likely Democrats are going to be bigger as well. So there are people coming in. I was at a Bush fund-raiser the other day - I guess yesterday in Northern Virginian -- high-tech economy type folks and look, there are a lot of people out there with money. Bush is raising -- Susan made the point about one-third in Texas. That is a lot, but I mean he is bringing in million dollar-plus in places like Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York. He's raised more money in California than I believe any Republican has raised countrywide, nationwide in the entire year. There's a real breadth here. There are a lot of people doing well in this economy. And there's just a lot more money out there I think for politics.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth, is it possible to answer -- I'm going to ask you the impossible question.
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Oh, thank you very much Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. You're certainly welcome. Is Bush raising the money because he's doing so well, or is the money causing him to do so well?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: I think it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You go to these fund-raisers, as Ron, you've had this experience and you say to people, "What is it you like about the governor?" And they say, "Well I really don't know that much about him. He's charming. I know a little bit about his father I liked his father and I'm going to write a check." And that's it. I mean -- it's just - it's an incredible - he's just as baffled by it as others.
|Fundraising in past races|
|RON BROWNSTEIN: To some extent the parties have really brought
the situation on themselves. If you go back as recently as 1984, Gary
Hart had raised $1.3 million by New Hampshire, but in that system -
JIM LEHRER: New Hampshire, now, New Hampshire is -
RON BROWNSTEIN: Is February of the election year.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Okay.
RON BROWNSTEIN: But he was able to translate success into New Hampshire into fundraising because the primary calendar was spread out over a period of months. California didn't come till June. Money could follow success. Now the calendar is so compressed that the candidates basically believe they have to raise all of their money in the year before the election because there's really no time to raise money based on initial success, and that allows donors to function in effect as a primary because they are, in effect, weeding out candidates in the way that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire used to be able to do because there's no time really to successfully translate early success into a lot of money.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Susan, speaking of weeding out candidates, go on down the list for us with some of the other Republicans. When you get beyond Forbes, how about McCain and Elizabeth Dole and Lamar Alexander? I mean are they having serious money problems, or how are they doing?
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, that's a really good question today. I'm just looking over the sheet here. And it turns out that three of the candidates, Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer and Lamar Alexander, are actually reporting today basically negative net worths -- campaigns that are in the red and in which they have more debts than they do have cash on hand. And you know, while they can continue on for a little while in that sort of a situation, basically it's putting them on a political life support system, and that's an area where clearly money does immediately matter in the campaign. McCain, Elizabeth Dole, they're in a little bit different situation. They have enough money to keep going -- and to be competitive in traditional terms. The problem simply is that Bush is raising such an untraditional amount of money, that, you know, it's not clear to anyone how they can possibly be competitive with him as the front-runner.
|Spending campaign money|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, Elizabeth, help us explain how this money is actually spent. I mean is it having the money and the power to raise it and having it in the bank, is that what we're working at now, is that what's causing this election -- that is having the impact on the election, or is it the actual expenditure of the money?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: At this point, it's more a sign of strength - and
short of anything else, that's what we have to go on, to see how these
candidates are really doing.
JIM LEHRER: Explain soft money for those -
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: Soft money, that basically you can give unlimited amounts and it's very unaccountable to party-building purposes.
JIM LEHRER: You give it to the party or something, you don't give it to individual candidates.
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: As Fred Wertheimer -- formally of Common Cause -- said the other day, "The brakes are off." I mean, this is really telling about what's coming ahead.
RON BROWNSTEIN: You know, Jim, in looking at what's coming, if you're the other candidate, you have to face the reality that the history has been that in the year before the election, you raise money more in the first half than in the second half. I mean, it makes sense. You go for your best targets, the lowest hanging fruit. So if you're John McCain or Elizabeth Dole, you have a hard time matching even what you did in the first half. In the second half that means there can be no Republican with more than about $10 million, which is not really very much - if you're looking at Bush - an enormous total -- the advantage it gives him is the ability to have the capacity to put on ads and build an organization beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, which no one else is going to have.
JIM LEHRER: You were going to say something, Susan?
SUSAN GLASSER: Yes. I just wanted to chime in here that, you know, I think the Democratic side of equation has become significantly more interesting as well. I mean clearly Bush is so far ahead of his rivals, it's clear that no one essentially is financially competitive, except for Forbes. But I think if you look at how much money Al Gore is spending relative to what he's raising, that you know, it becomes much more of a significant contest. You're talking about practically parity between Bill Bradley, who just a few months ago was dismissed as an outsider with no chance of unseating the Vice President in a contest next year.
JIM LEHRER: You mentioned that again, but go through that again, the difference in how -- in what they're each bringing in and what they're each spending. I'm talking about Gore and Bradley.
SUSAN GLASSER: Well, exactly. You know, there is a fair amount of difference still in their overall fundraising The Vice President $17.5 million to $11 million for Bradley, but Bradley is running a much leaner meaner campaign, storing up his resources for the election next year -- he's still got $7.5 million in the bank, compared with $9 million for the Vice President. Considering the Vice President's much higher day-to-day, month-to-month expenses, he has a much bigger staff, many more campaign offices, you're talking about putting them all but even essentially at this point in terms of what they can actually spend on ads and in the election process.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Elizabeth, just in a general way, is there something different about this particular election year that somebody has decided that this is going to require just a lot more money than it ever has before, or is it just a natural progression of politics?
ELIZABETH ARNOLD: I think it's two things: I think the economy is booming, I think people who normally write $100 or $500 checks are not having as much trouble thinking about writing a $1,000 check, and I also think it really is a result of this compressed primary. There just is no time, and the candidates know this and they saw it happen to Senator Bob Dole in 1996 where he was basically cut off at the knees waiting for an infusion of cash right before the convention. And they don't want to see that happen to themselves, and so they're out there raising as aggressively as possible because say you win in New Hampshire, you don't have time to wait for the checks to come in for the next primary.
RON BROWNSTEIN: And the other point quickly on the Republican side that the money is only one manifestation of a broader movement. You're seeing the entire infrastructure of the party, elected officials, party officials, Governors, Senators, state legislators basically doing the same things the donors are doing - overwhelmingly aligning with Bush, saying this is the guy and trying to in effect preempt this process in the year before -- and that will become a major theme for his opponents, trying to - you know -- grab whatever strand they can -- whether Steve Forbes or Lamar Alexander saying, look to the voters, that the infrastructure of the party, the establisher of the party is trying to make this choice for you. You should rebel against it. That may be the only argument they have in this environment. I'm not clear it's going to work, but you are going to hear a lot of it in the months ahead.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Ron, Susan, Elizabeth, thank you all three very much.