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Clamoring For '04 Campaign Cash

The race for 2004 campaign funds is on, and national party committees and Democratic presidential hopefuls have already collected millions.

The National Republican Congressional Committee said Wednesday it raised $22.1 million from January through March, a committee record.

In the presidential race, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina announced he has raised about $7.4 million so far this year, a first-quarter total that will likely put him among front-runners on the 2004 money trail. Other Democratic hopefuls planned to announce their totals in coming days.

The fund raising comes as the Federal Election Commission considers changes in the presidential public funding system. It will decide Thursday on whether to hold a hearing on several proposals.

The questions may include:

  • Whether host committees formed to help parties cover the costs of presidential nominating conventions should be able to continue accepting corporate and labor union contributions, and whether federal officeholders should be able to raise such "soft money" for them.
  • Whether presidential candidates who accept public financing should be able to pay themselves a salary out of their campaign funds. The commission decided last year to let congressional candidates tap campaign funds to help cover any lost wages, to encourage candidates who otherwise could not afford to run.
  • Whether campaigns that take public financing should be able to charge news media who fly on campaign planes for the cost of preparing the plane for a campaign, such as installing equipment or painting on a logo. Such costs have typically not been included in the transportation fees news organizations paid campaigns in the past.
National parties - which receive taxpayer money for the conventions — and federal officeholders are banned from raising soft money for federal elections under a campaign finance law that took effect last November. They can collect only limited "hard money" contributions from individuals and political committees.

The NRCC's first-quarter fund raising topped what it collected when it could still accept big soft-money checks. In the first three months of 2001, the committee raised a total of $18.8 million, and in 2002, the last election year, it collected $21.5 million in the first quarter.

The NRCC credited more than 100,000 new donors with helping it set a new record.

"The strength of our individual donor base, and the tremendous efforts we have put into our hard-dollar fund raising have allowed us to adapt well to the new world under campaign finance reform," New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, the NRCC's chairman, said in a written statement.

In the presidential race, Edwards, one of the first Democrats to start campaigning, was also among the first to reveal how his fund-raising efforts have gone so far this year.

The North Carolina senator has crisscrossed the country for months, developing a national network of volunteer fund-raisers and holding dozens of fund-raising events, including stops in Democratic donor hot spots New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"In the first quarter, fund raising was a priority and we couldn't be more pleased with Senator Edwards' strong showing," spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said Tuesday. "At this point in the campaign, raising money isn't just about having resources. Money begets money, and it's proving the vitality of your campaign to other potential supporters and to the media, frankly, and to voters."

One of the other early entrants in the race, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, has said he expected to raise at least $1.5 million from January through March, meeting his goal.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt were expected to exceed $4 million each in first-quarter fund-raising.

It remained to be seen whether they or any of the other candidates would outpace the 2000 Democratic nominee, then-Vice President Al Gore, who raised nearly $9 million in his campaign's first quarter.

The candidates' first campaign finance reports are due at the FEC on April 15.

By Sharon Theimer

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