(Host) Presidential candidate Howard Dean says he will reject public financing – and the federal spending limits that go with it. Dean says his supporters overwhelming urged him to abandon the public financing program. His opponents say he’s just trying to outspend them in the hard-fought primary campaign.
From Vermont Public Radio, John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) Howard Dean is about to boldly go where no Democratic candidate has gone before. Since post-Watergate election reform laws were passed, Democratic candidates for president have always accepted public financing for their campaigns.
Dean would qualify for about $19 million from the U.S. Treasury. But the money comes with a price: he’d have to limit spending to $45 million through July. Dean said he turned the decision over to his supporters in an online poll; 104,000 people voted. On Saturday in Burlington, Vermont, he announced the results.
(Dean) “Today by a margin of 85% to 15% the people who have made this campaign possible have voted to decline public financing.”
(Dillon) In March, Dean pledged to accept the public money and abide by the spending limits. But that was before his campaign took off and he began to raise large amounts of money, much of it in small online donations. By the end of September, Dean had collected $25 million, with an average contribution of $77.
The Vermonter’s campaign slogan is “People Powered Howard.” Dean said he’d reach out again and again to his supporters.
(Dean) “We must expand the campaign from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions. Our goal is to match George Bush, but instead of getting $2,000 checks from the heads of major corporations in the country, we ask two million Americans to give us $100. And we believe two million Americans will borrow a hundred dollars simply for the pleasure of sending this president back to Crawford Texas.”
(Dillon) Dean’s decision was immediately criticized by two of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Kerry spokesman Robert Gibbs accused Dean of abandoning principle for politics as usual.
(Gibbs) “I think it again it’s just another in a long string of issues where Howard Dean has said one thing one day and a different thing the next.”
(Dillon) But campaign reform organizations were much more understanding. Mary Boyle is with Common Cause, an advocacy group that supports public financing.
(Boyle) “Well, there’s no better proof that the presidential public financing system is in a crisis when numerous candidates are either opting out or thinking about opting out. And we need to go back and repair the system.”
(Dillon) And Middlebury College Political Science Professor Eric Davis said Dean had little choice. He says if Dean stuck to the spending limit he could run out of money in early spring.
(Davis) “What Dean did not want happening was a situation where he would wrap up the Democratic nomination late February or early March, be subject to the spending limit that goes with public financing, not be able to spend very much money at all between getting the nomination in March and actually going to the Democratic convention in Boston in July.”
(Dillon) In the 2000 election, candidate George Bush rejected the spending limit and raised $100 million. This time, he plans to double that amount. Common Cause and other groups say it’s difficult for Democrats to follow the spending limits when President Bush is prepared to spend more than four times as much.
Nor NPR news, I’m John Dillon.
(Note: this story was produced for and aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.)