WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) and John Kerry (search) have accepted $75 million each in government financing for their campaigns for the White House but tens of millions more will be spent by the parties and partisan interest groups to influence the race.
"The toughest period is still to come," first lady Laura Bush wrote in a fund-raising e-mail the Bush campaign sent during the Republican National Convention (search). "While the deadline has passed to contribute funds to Bush-Cheney '04, you may still support the re-election of the president and the Republican ticket by contributing to the Republican National Committee."
The GOP and Democratic national committees can spend roughly $16 million each in coordination with their presidential nominees, and unlimited amounts independent of them.
Outside groups are expected to weigh in with millions of dollars more in television and radio ads and voter drives aimed at impacting the race.
Unlike the national parties, they can collect unlimited donations, though there are restrictions on how they can use them. Just how far those spending limits go is a matter of hot debate between the groups and the presidential campaigns, and one that is unlikely to see resolution before the election.
Though Kerry and Bush are now limited in their own campaign spending, there are benefits to taking the public financing, a program created after the Watergate (search) scandal to try to lessen the influence of big donations in the presidential race. While each will continue raising money for his party, the candidates can now focus most of their attention on campaigning, and there will be more money available for their parties and congressional candidates.
Much of the Bush and Kerry money will be consumed by ad spending and payroll costs. Kerry's campaign announced last Tuesday that more than half its $75 million government general-election grant — $45 million — would be spent on an ad buy to cover the final two months before the election.
The tight budgets for the two campaigns come after months of record-breaking fund raising.
Kerry raised a Democratic record $233 million from January 2003 until his official nomination by the party at its convention in Boston last month, when he accepted taxpayer money to cover his campaign costs from that point forward.
Bush holds the all-time presidential fund-raising record, in the $250 million range as his private campaign fund raising wrapped up Thursday.
Mindful of the end of their own campaign fund raising, Kerry and Bush have been aggressively raising money for their national party committees. The Democratic National Committee (search) started August with $62 million in the bank to spend in the presidential race, while the RNC had $87 million socked away, the parties' most recent campaign finance reports show.
The party faithful are pitching in to keep the money flowing.
"This is a close, tough campaign against a relentless opponent. If we give these characters victory in this election, we'll never wipe those smug grins off their faces," Democratic strategist James Carville (search) wrote in a DNC e-mail sent the day as Laura Bush's Republican solicitation. "After you donate, pass this message on to a friend. We've got 61 days to go and we need all hands on deck."