Convoluted rules result in creative spending by candidates
By Sandra Sobieraj, Associated Press, 12/03/99WASHINGTON -- A whopping $400,000 in reserved TV spots just before next month's Iowa caucuses catapults Bill Bradley toward the legal spending limit there.
For good measure, the presidential candidate who's made campaign finance reform a central tenet of his campaign, also placed a $55,000 marker for ad time on nearby Illinois TV -- a way of reaching Iowa viewers without counting fully towards Iowa limits.
The airtime orders that Bradley placed Thursday underscore the creativity of candidates who accept federal matching funds and then are bound by convoluted spending rules.
Although the money is not spent until the ads actually air, Bradley's orders at five Iowa TV stations brought his advertising costs in the state to around $880,000 -- just shy of the $1.1 million spending limit even before travel, staff and other campaigning expenses are factored in.
"We expect to compete well in Iowa with the caps in mind -- on an organizational level, on a media level, on a caucus-preparation level," Bradley spokesman Eric Hauser said.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, another campaign finance reform champion, is using time-tested tactics to try to compete with the hefty warchests of Gov. George W. Bush and Steve Forbes, both of whom declined federal funds and can spend as much as they want.
To date, the Texas governor has reported raising $57 million. Forbes, a millionaire publisher, has reported raising only $4 million, but in 1996 he ended up contributing $37.5 million of the $41.7 million he spent on his first presidential campaign.
McCain is not competing in Iowa. But he is fighting back in New Hampshire, making full use of provisions in the law that campaign finance experts say make a farce of the $660,000 federal spending cap in the state by allowing candidates to spend up to $6 million there.
Among the techniques allowed under Federal Election Commission law:
Candidates go to such extremes because Iowa and New Hampshire vote first, and the outcomes usually set a trend for subsequent primaries, experts say.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane seized on Bradley's new ad orders as evidence that Bradley is "putting a lot on the line in those two states and recognizes the fact that for his campaign to go beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, he needs to win Iowa and New Hampshire."
While McCain is among those using rules that give one appearance but allow another type of behavior, even some of his opponents are willing to give him a pass.
"It's a cute news story and it does raise the question of double standards, but it also raises a question about the current system," said Bill Dal Col, campaign manager for Steve Forbes.
Dal Col said the techniques used by those taking the money showed why the entire presidential election financing system should be scrapped.
"Lift the caps, go to full reporting, and let people contribute what they want," he said. "The voters can decide who, if anybody, sold their soul."
(Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson contributed to this report.)