Presidential candidates qualify for $34 million, but shortfall could limit funds

By Will Lester, Associated Press, 12/23/99

WASHINGTON -- Eight presidential candidates now have a promise of $34 million in matching federal funds, but the actual amount they get in January may be less than half of that.

Among Democrats, Vice President Al Gore qualified for $11 million and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley qualified for $8.3 million, the Federal Election Commission said Wednesday.

In the Republican field, Arizona Sen. John McCain was entitled to $4.2 million, while conservative activist Gary Bauer qualified for just under $4 million and commentator Alan Keyes just over $1.2 million.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has not requested matching funds, elections officials say. But Hatch campaign officials said Wednesday night they planned to turn in paperwork for their request ''very soon.''

The GOP front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, has outdistanced the field by raising about $60 million and had decided to forgo federal matching money for the primary season. Wealthy publisher Steve Forbes also decided he wouldn't take federal funds for the primaries.

By not taking the federal money, Bush and Forbes will not have to abide by federal campaign spending limits during the nomination fight.

Pat Buchanan qualified for almost $2.4 million even though he left the GOP to seek the Reform Party nomination. Former Republican candidate Dan Quayle qualified for $2.1 million, while perennial candidate Lyndon Larouche, who has said he's running as a Democrat, was entitled to just over $733,000.

The federal government matches the first $250 of each individual contribution if the candidates agree to limit their spending.

The Treasury Department is scheduled to make payments Jan. 3, but the exact amount of those payments was not released. Federal Election Commission officials expect it will come to 40 percent to 50 percent of the total, with candidates getting the rest of the money later in the year.

Candidates eventually get all of the money and most borrow the difference in the meantime.

''For us, it reinforces how competitive financially we will be in the winter,'' said Eric Hauser, a spokesman for the Bradley campaign. ''Our contributions eligible for matching funds are growing steadily and will continue to grow this month.''

The Gore campaign did not respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday.

The amount of money available to the candidates in January will be somewhat higher than earlier believed because Bush and Forbes decided not to take federal dollars and because several other candidates have dropped out.

McCain spokesman Dan Schnur said the federal money will give the senator the financial resources to compete with Bush through the early primary states.

''Coupled with the additional matching funds that will be available after an extremely successful December, we believe we'll be able to spend competitively with Governor Bush's campaign not only in New Hampshire and South Carolina, but in the primary states that follow over the next several weeks of the campaign calendar,'' Schnur said.

The presidential campaign fund has been facing shortfalls since the mid-1990s. Also, the percentage of taxpayers agreeing to dedicate $3 of their income taxes to the campaign fund has dropped in the past two decades, elections officials say.

Both parties' nominees will get about $67 million in late summer and the Reform Party nominee will get about $12.6 million. Those payments, plus the cost of the party conventions, must be set aside in the fund before the primary candidates can be paid, said Sharon Snyder of the FEC.