WASHINGTON – The Federal Election Commission is considering changes in the public financing system and will decide this week whether to hold a hearing next month on several proposals.
Fund-raising among Democrats, meanwhile, is continuing apace. Sen. John Edwards has raised about $7.4 million for his Democratic presidential campaign so far this year, a first-quarter total that will likely put him among front-runners on the 2004 money trail.
The FEC will decide by Thursday on whether to hold a hearing on the proposals. 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 new campaign finance law.
Edwards, one of the first Democrats to enter the presidential race, was also among the first to reveal how his fund-raising efforts have gone so far this year. Other hopefuls planned to announce their first-quarter totals in coming days.
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. "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."
In the second fund-raising quarter, from now through June, Edwards will continue raising campaign cash but make more trips to his home state and key primary states, Palmieri said, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
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 Federal Election Commission on April 15.