Money Talks

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It's the year before election year. That means it's fundraising time. Of course, it's always fundraising time in politics. Anyway, in his latest Against the Grain commentary, CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer picks a few winners and losers.

The results of the second presidential primary of Campaign 2003 are in. And the cool thing about it is that not a single vote has been cast!

No actual citizens had to bother casting actual votes, but we still have all the fun of a real election. We got winners. We got losers. We got upsets. We got analysis.

It's… The Money Vote (thank you, Don Pardo).

Instead of ballots, it's the official fundraising figures just filed with the Federal Election Commission that count and get counted.

You might be thinking, "Hey, wasn't there a campaign reform bill passed awhile ago." You're right. It just hasn't made any difference to presidential campaigns. Yet. The game is the same as it has been since the post-Watergate reforms deformed the system.

With that gloomy fanfare, the results:

Grand Prize Winner: Bush-Cheney '04: Somebody is going to have to find a word much bigger than "juggernaut." Team Bush shattered the record books by raising $34.4 million in just the second quarter of 2003. And if memory serves, the president does not have an opponent in the primaries. Picky, picky.

To put the Bush-Cheney mega-bucks into perspective, the nine little Democrats altogether raised a total of just $31 million in that same period.

In the second quarter of 1995, incumbent President Bill Clinton raised a measly $9 million despite all those Lincoln Bedroom slumber parties and White House coffees.

What this means is that from now until Labor Day 2004, Bush-Cheney will be able to conduct an unobstructed media "shock and awe" campaign. The Democratic candidate, whoever that turns out to be, will have to spend virtually every shekel on gaining the nomination and beating up on fellow Democrats. In the summer of '04, the Democrats will be off the air and Bush-Cheney will be rolling into electoral Baghdad.

1st Runner Up: Howard Dean: Dean – maverick, outsider, underdog – cleaned his opponents' establishment clocks in the second quarter. He raised $7.6 million, almost $2 million more than the second-place finisher, John Kerry.

Dean raised more cash from small donations than any legitimate, major party presidential candidate has since the 1970's. Certainly, he's the only candidate in ages that used small donations to actually win a money race. In 2000, 74 percent of Bush's donations were $750 or more and 65 percent of Gore's. Stark contrast to Dean's 29 percent.

A whopping 73,226 people contributed to Dean's campaign in the second quarter, 50,000 more than contributed to Kerry's.

This is something very rare: a good news story about money and politics. I've never seen one of these before.

Who would have imagined that it would be money that pushed Dean over the edge into the realm of "credible candidate"? Go figure.

2nd Runner Up: The Internet: Half of the money Dean raised came through Internet solicitations and donations. That's a first, in a big way. It's the reason why Dean has so many small donors. And it's a more efficient way to finance a campaign than eating rubber chicken every night.

To Team Bush's credit, they have voluntarily posted their donor lists on the campaign's official Web site.

Grand Prize Loser: Richard Gephardt: Gephardt, the most experienced and powerful candidate in the Democratic crowd, finished a distant fifth in the money race. The vultures began circling immediately. "The lag in fund-raising appeared to raise questions about the viability of Mr. Gephardt's second race for the White House," reported The New York Times in it's pre-obit.

I hereby predict Gephardt will win the nomination.

1st Runner Down: Joe Lieberman: Expected to be a serious buckraker, Lieberman could only manage a third-place finish. So he shook up his fundraising staff and, allegedly, cut his sons' pay. He's even considering selling his earnestness on Ebay.

Bush and Cheney, meanwhile, are looking to buy a little credibility. They have the money to spend.

Dick Meyer, the editorial director of CBSNews.com, is based in Washington. For many years, he was a political and investigative producer for The CBS News Evening News With Dan Rather.

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Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer
  • Dick Meyer

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