McCain Lags Behind Democrats in Fundraising

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain is trailing both Democratic candidates in fundraising. Steve Inskeep speaks to NPR new analyst Juan Williams about John McCain's money woes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This was supposed to be John McCain's period of grace. While the Democrats fight each other, the Republican nominee was supposed to have time to build his fall campaign and raise money. But he's had trouble raising money. Last month the leading Democrats raised 60 million dollars between them. John McCain raised 15 million, only a quarter of that amount. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why would the man who's got the Republican nomination sewn up have any trouble raising money?

WILLIAMS: Well, even with the nomination in hand, as you just pointed out, there's real concern about his ability to compete in the money game with either Senators Obama or Clinton, and particularly so in the general election. Senator Obama with a base of, like, 1.3 million donors has already raised eight million dollars for the general election. Senator Clinton, 22 million for the general election.

But Senator McCain has only about three million in hand for the general election, and he's been, in fact, been returning some of that money because his campaign realizes that it'll be hard for him to raise more than the 84 million that would come from federal campaign funding, you know, the money that comes from the three dollar check-off on your tax return.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's the option. You can take the federal funding and have your fall campaign paid for if you're — or if you're really confident, you might choose to opt out of the system and try to raise many millions more, but you're saying it doesn't even seem to have a chance at that.

WILLIAMS: No, and I think that's the conclusion that his campaign's coming to.

INSKEEP: Could we just try to understand why, though, you could imagine that Republican donors aren't very excited because the Republican party's had a lot of disappointment lately. You could imagine Republicans still not reconciled to McCain, what's going on?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that there is some feeling that McCain wasn't the choice early on, but everybody thought that once he had the nomination in hand, that would go away. He has been making campaign finance, you know, money raising stops all over the country, but the money has not been flowing in. In addition, what you got to understand is that, Steve, no Republican or Democrat since '76 has opted out of public financing, which is, you know, the program created to remedy the money scramble that was at the bottom of the Nixon Watergate scandal.

So McCain has been an advocate, also, of closing loopholes in the system to the point where he's angered some of the big donors and the Republican Party who felt that fundraising was a GOP advantage over Democrats. So now McCain finds himself caught in an odd bind and McCain can't…

INSKEEP: People will say, fine, John McCain, you don't like fundraising, we won't help you do it.

WILLIAMS: Exactly. Exactly my point. And McCain's camp is now looking, really, to have donors. This is an interesting maneuver. Give money in the fall to a so-called victory committee, which would be a joint enterprise between his campaign and the Republican National Committee. The donors can give $28,500 to the Party, but for the fall election they could only give 2300 to McCain so the Party money will be used jointly for phone banks, direct mail, political ads. Just what McCain's campaign will need.

INSKEEP: Excuse me, is that the kind of loophole that John McCain has stood against as a senator?

WILLIAMS: Oh, look at that. But you know what? This is the kind of thing that has been going on in the past and it's created problems for the Federal Election Commission, and now the Federal Election Commission is essentially impotent because it's only got two members at this point. The Commission has six seats, four of them are vacant, you need a vote of at least four commissioners to do anything to make a decision about just this kind of maneuver, or whether - and the earliest point at which the Senate might act to confirm new committee members would be in May. So as a result, the decision seems to be from the McCain camp; let's go right now with public financing.

INSKEEP: Oh, gonna go with the public financing, although they have to get approval of the Federal Election Commission to do that, right? I mean they have to…

WILLIAMS: Correct.

INSKEEP: They have to confirm him as the nominee. Okay, NPR's Juan Williams, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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