Unlike Mondale in '84, Dukakis enters homestretch debt-free
Washington — Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis has something Walter Mondale lacked when the Minnesota senator ran for president: money. Neither Mr. Dukakis nor the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will enter the November election with substantial campaign debts, as was the case in 1984. This election cycle, the DNC has successfully raised $16.8 million - the first time since 1974, when Congress imposed a ceiling on how much a presidential candidate can spend per election, that the Democrats have been able to raise that amount.
One of the chief reasons for the Dukakis campaign's successful fund raising is a perception among big donors that Mr. Dukakis can win in November.
Eli Broad, the chairman of a Los Angeles-based home-building company, for example, did not contribute much to the Democratic Party when Mr. Mondale ran for president in 1984.
``I didn't give to Senator Mondale's campaign because I did not have strong feelings that he could make a difference,'' Mr. Broad says.
Last month, however, Broad forked over $100,000 to a DNC ``nonfederal'' account.
``I would not have donated to a losing campaign,'' he says.
Broad is not alone. In June and July, 17 other groups and individuals donated $100,000 to various DNC accounts.
Donations to such ``nonfederal'' accounts - which are administered by state and local party affiliates - do not violate federal law, according to Karen Finucan, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission.
There is a federal limit of $1,000 on donations by individuals to presidential campaigns and a $20,000 limit on donations to the party national committees.
People who want to give more than those limits may donate to the nonfederal accounts, which are not subject to the limitations of the federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. Donation ceilings vary from state to state.
A party committee, Ms. Finucan explains, may not give money directly for a candidate's campaign purposes, but it may donate up to $1,000 to a ``compliance'' fund and purchase up to $8.3 million worth of so-called coordinated expenditures, such as air time, for the candidate.
Richard Scammon, director of the Elections Research Center, explains the shift by noting, ``A lot of people who have the potential for making substantial contributions get enthusiastic when they feel their party's presidential candidate has a chance of winning.''
``If they feel he has little chance, they'll give to his campaign, but instead of giving $10,000, they'll give $1,000,'' says Mr. Scammon. ``They may well put more money into their party's Senate or House campaign.''
This influx of funds has freed Dukakis from the chore of post-primary fund raising.
According to Mike Berman, former ``Mondale for President'' treasurer, the Dukakis campaign hit its fund-raising ceiling in May. Going into the 1984 Democratic National Convention, the Mondale campaign and the DNC had a cumulative debt of approximately $9 million. The Mondale campaign continued to raise money into December to pay off its debt.
Peter Kelly, DNC treasurer in 1980 and its national finance chairman in 1984, says, ``One reason the Dukakis campaign is doing better [financially] is because of how well Bob Farmer organized fund raising during the primaries.''
Mr. Farmer, the Democratic Victory Fund coordinator, organized the National Finance Committee, whose members each pledged to raise $10,000 for the Dukakis primary campaign, and the similar Victory Fund, each of whose members has pledged to raise $100,000 on behalf of the DNC.
Dukakis has also been helped by substantial financial support - approximately $3.5 million - from the Greek-American community.
Those and other early contributions, according to Mr. Berman, allowed the governor to forge ahead after Super Tuesday when most other candidates' finances were nearing exhaustion.
Neither Mr. Dukakis or Republican candidate George Bush will have to worry about where they will get their funds for the general election.
Each will receive $46.1 million in federal funds for their election campaigns.
An Aug. 24 article on presidential campaign financing misstated the amount that a party committee can donate to a candidate's compliance fund. The amount is $5,000.