Several Democrats Began Year Nearly Broke

Several Democratic presidential hopefuls began 2004 on the financial edge, skirting the edges of solvency as they spent nearly every dollar of campaign cash they took in.

Some wouldn't have had enough money to pay up had every bill collector come calling on New Year's Eve. Among them, John Edwards' (search) campaign owed about $300,000 more at that point than it had in the bank after raising $16.4 million last year.

"It's not scary if you know what you're doing," Edwards spokesman Roger Salazar said of the low reserves. "That doesn't mean it isn't tight, but if you've got good people who know what they're doing, you take all these things into account."

Edwards' financial picture brightened quickly in the new year.

He picked up nearly $3.4 million in public financing Jan. 2 and followed up with a second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 19. The North Carolina senator has received at least $1.3 million in donations since Iowa, Salazar said.

Most of the seven Democrats still in the race kept details of their year-end finances to themselves as long as possible. They had to reveal all in reports to the Federal Election Commission on Saturday.

John Kerry (search), the front-runner, spent about $23.6 million last year. His campaign raised about $23.5 million in 2003, including about $3 million in a personal loan from Kerry.

The Massachusetts senator has loaned his campaign about $6.8 million in all, but less than half was reflected in the year-end report. He started the new year with $1.6 million on hand and $3.8 million in debts.

Kerry has raised more than $2.2 million on the Internet since winning the Iowa caucuses.

He and Howard Dean are the only Democrats skipping public financing, a decision that allows them to spend as much as they wish in the primaries.

Dean raised nearly twice as much as any other Democrat last year: a party record $41 million. He spent all but about $8.5 million of it.

Dean dedicated more than $8.5 million to consultants, staff salaries and related expenses. Ads were another major cost, taking up at least $7 million, and the campaign spent at least $4.5 million on direct mail.

Dean said early on that he would run a national campaign, even as rivals focused on one or two early-voting states. He hit the airwaves quickly and built get-out-the-vote operations in several states.

His fund-raisers see reason for optimism, in part because the Internet donors key to his fortunes last year have continued giving. Dean raised roughly $1.5 million online last week, and at least $2.2 million from all fund-raising sources since his Iowa loss, his campaign said.

Dean has help on the campaign trail. Two union political action committees have spent at least $2.5 million campaigning in support of the former Vermont governor.

Among the other Democratic hopefuls:

-Joe Lieberman raised about $14 million last year. The Connecticut senator had about $612,000 left at the end of December, but also had $253,000 in bills. He received $3.6 million in public financing last month.

-Retired Gen. Wesley Clark also collected about $14 million last year. He spent $10.4 million and had about $3 million on hand after bills Dec. 31. He picked up an additional $3.7 million in presidential public financing in January.

-Al Sharpton raised $396,366 last year and spent $389,677. He had $7,535 on hand and $348,450 in bills on Dec. 31, and loaned his campaign at least $10,000. Sharpton, a civil rights activist, has applied for public financing and hopes to get his first check soon. Public financing provides candidates a taxpayer-financed match of up to $250 on each private donation, up to a total government grant of about $18.6 million.

Like Dean and Kerry, President Bush turned away public financing and is free from its $45 million spending limit. He is already close to his fund-raising goal of $150 million.

Bush has collected at least $140 million so far, including $132.7 million last year and more than $7.3 million in January.