McCain's funding gains, but Bush still far ahead

By John Aloysius Farrell, Globe Staff, 12/30/1999

ASHINGTON - Senator John McCain's ability to raise campaign funds has improved with his rising standings in the polls, but he lags far behind the phenomenal fund-raising of Governor George W. Bush of Texas, according to year-end figures reported by the two candidates.

The fund-raising total, as posted on Bush's campaign Web site, exceeds $63 million for 1999. McCain said yesterday that he has collected $15.6 million, which, when bolstered by matching federal funds, would give him $21 million for the year. Bush has decided not to take matching funds so he will not be bound by spending limits.

As McCain has garnered media attention, and has risen in the polls in New Hampshire and elsewhere, the pace of his fund-raising has accelerated. His campaign said it had raised $6.1 million in the fourth quarter, and at times approached $1 million a week. McCain doubled his previous quarterly mark, of $3 million in the third quarter.

On the Democratic side, former Senator Bill Bradley appeared to have capitalized on his improved position in the polls to raise about twice as much money as Al Gore in the fourth quarter.

Bradley announced yesterday that he has collected $27 million in 1999, including $8 million in the fourth quarter. The Gore campaign had no final results, but campaign officials said they had met their fourth-quarter predictions, raising $4 million since Oct. 1 for a year-end total of about $28 million.

Bradley's fourth quarter, his best yet, allowed him to spend $10.4 million on television advertising and on other costs, while leaving $8.3 million in cash on hand.

Like McCain, both Democratic candidates are accepting federal money and are bound by funding and spending limits. Bradley and Gore each expect to collect more than $10 million in federal funds early next year.

Although McCain's fund-raising lags behind Bush's, Bradley's and Gore's, his campaign war chest should permit him to be competitive in the first round of primaries. This is viewed as significant, since four Republican candidates have dropped out of the race, citing fund-raising difficulties.

''This is the $20 million that everyone says is the price of getting into the poker game,'' said Howard Opinsky, a McCain campaign spokesman.

Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for Bush, did not dispute the McCain campaign's assertions, but wondered how those drawn to the Arizona senator's support for changes in campaign financing would view his fund-raising efforts. ''He seems to have shifted his focus from speeches dealing with campaign finance reform to holding fund-raising events,'' she said.

And although McCain ''appears to have gotten the resources to run a campaign in two or three states,'' he has yet to raise enough to match Bush nationwide, Tucker said.

Opinsky, McCain's spokesman, responded, ''What you need more than money is ideas and a message.'' In contrast to Bush, he said, ''we have a good message, and we'll be able to spend enough to get it out.''

A spokesman for Gary Bauer said his campaign would report $7 million in contributions this year, and expected $4.4 million in federal matching funds. The campaigns of Steve Forbes, Senator Orrin G. Hatch and Alan Keyes did not respond yesterday to requests for their fund-raising totals.

Several campaigns remarked that the Internet is playing an increasingly important role in campaign finance. Bradley has raised more than $1.2 million from his Web page, and McCain's page proceeds exceeded $1 million in December.

The Bush campaign, meanwhile, announced that it is improving its Web-based campaign reporting system. Bush's system, which lists every contribution on the campaign Web site, has been criticized by rivals, who said it was difficult to search and it lagged two weeks behind the actual totals.

The Bush campaign is cutting in half the delay between the time a contribution is collected and posted, Tucker said, and it will now provide the data in a more easily searchable format.