WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate John Kerry (search) is considering delaying acceptance of the Democratic nomination at the end of July in order to continue raising and spending private contributions.
Since both Kerry and President Bush have declined matching funds in the primaries, they can raise an unlimited amount of money before the conventions. But once the candidates are formally nominated, they will be able to spend the $75 million available to them in federal funding only, and will no longer be allowed to spend any other funds, including those that might have been left over from the pre-nomination primary campaign.
Because the GOP convention is at the end of August, Kerry will have to make do with the $75 million for five weeks longer than Bush.
Democratic sources say the Democratic Party would still hold its national convention in Boston as scheduled, but if the Massachusetts senator delays acceptance of the nomination for a month, he would even the playing field with Bush.
"We are looking at this and many other options very seriously because we won't fight with one hand behind our back," Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Friday. No timetable has been set for a decision, she said.
Kerry's campaign and the Democratic National Committee (search) are still considering specifics of such a plan. Delegates could be asked to nominate Kerry at the convention or gather at a later time for a vote. At the convention, Kerry could give an acceptance speech or just address delegates.
The Kerry campaign is looking into the legalities and has not found any prohibitions to this. The GOP is already looking into potential violations of Federal Election Commission (search) rules.
Long before Kerry became the presumptive nominee, Democrats worried that the chosen dates for the party convention would give Republicans a huge advantage because the GOP convention comes a month later.
Kerry faces three weeks of Olympics right after his convention and the dog days of summer. His convention is at a greater risk of being overshadowed or ignored because of other outside factors. The president's nominating convention comes after the Olympics and at the end of the summer when kids are heading back to school and vacations are ending.
Cutter said other options being considered include having the Democratic National Committee or local and state Democratic parties raise more money to support Kerry's candidacy. Kerry would have no control over much of the money raised by the party. By law, the DNC cannot coordinate more than roughly $16 million of spending with Kerry's campaign in the general election.
Kerry and Bush skipped public financing for the primary-election season, enabling them to spend as much as they wish until their parties officially nominate them at conventions this summer.
Since becoming the party's presumptive nominee in early March, Kerry has broken Democratic fund-raising and spending records. He raised roughly $31 million last month alone, pushing his campaign total to a Democratic record $117 million.
Kerry started May with $28 million in the bank, far less than Bush's $72 million but still a Democratic record. Bush has raised more than $200 million so far.
The FEC and courts have traditionally deferred to party rules to determine how a candidate is nominated, said Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel. The FEC provides the general-election financing after the candidate is nominated according to the party's rules.
It's possible the DNC could change its nominating procedures before the convention, such as deciding to have delegates vote later by mail or by proxy.
"I don't see anything in the general election campaign laws that would stop the party from changing the nomination dates," said Noble, now head of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (search).
However, delaying the nomination could have implications for the roughly $14 million in government financing the DNC received to hold its nominating convention, he said.
The convention is defined as when the nomination takes place, Noble said. Having delegates vote in Boston, but Kerry put off his acceptance, might not pass muster, he said.
"They would have to come up with an argument that would basically look at the convention as continuing past the convention dates," Noble said. "Could they do it? It's possible. In the end it would be up to the FEC and possibly the courts, if it's challenged."
Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman had harsh words for such a plan. "Only John Kerry could be for a nominating convention, but be against the nomination. This is just the latest example of John Kerry's belief that the rules are for other people, not for him."
However, the Kerry campaign said the Republican Party has taken full advantage of the rules to allow Bush to spend as much of his "special interest warchest" as possible by selecting the latest convention date in history.
When the Democratic Party scheduled its convention, it didn't know it would have a nominee who opted out of public financing for the primaries and the $45 million spending limit the program imposes through the spring and summer.
At the time, the party anticipated it would face the same situation it has in previous elections: a nominee who emerged from the primaries hovering at the spending limit and had to limp through several months awaiting the convention and the campaign-sustaining government financing.
The DNC signaled it may be open to changing the rules.
"We're going to make sure this party and this nominee is competitive," said DNC spokeswoman Debra DeShong.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.