Dole Says He Didn’t Exceed Spending Limit, Democrats Say He Did
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Did he or didn’t he? Democrats say they have proof Bob Dole broke the law _ and continues to break it daily _ by exceeding campaign spending limits.
But Dole’s presidential campaign staff insists it can spend an additional $1.1 million over the next 2 1/2 months without violating the legal limit.
The issue sounds clearcut _ any candidate in 1996 who accepted public funds to help pay for his primary campaign is limited to spending $37.1 million to seek his party’s nomination.
But the obscure federal rules governing the spending limit are full of loopholes and special exceptions that make it tricky to determine whether a candidate has hit the ceiling.
That prompted a spirited disagreement between the chairmen of the major political parties on Fox Morning News today.
``Bob Dole is out this morning breaking the law, exceeding the limit,″ said Democratic Chairman Don Fowler. Fowler charged that Dole had exceeded spending limits by $1.5 million.
``What they’re talking about here is just a gross charge pulled out of thin air,″ responded GOP Chairman Haley Barbour, contending that Dole can spend about $1 million more before reaching the limit.
``There’s nothing to it ... the Democrats have got to shift the focus away from their own ethical and legal problems. They’d rather talk about the FEC than the FBI,″ he said.
The Dole campaign says accounting maneuvers have kept it within the law, but Democrats say Dole is in blatant violation and will be almost $3 million above the limit when the primary season ends in August.
Only the Federal Election Commission can decide the issue.
The Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the FEC on Wednesday, asking it to immediately block Dole from spending any more on his campaign until after the Republican National Convention. That’s unlikely, since the FEC usually takes two or more years to wrap up a case.
Meanwhile, Dole continues to travel and spend. On the campaign trail in Ohio and Kansas on Wednesday, he joked repeatedly about his precarious financial condition and rebuffed the Democratic accusations.
``They must have the wrong numbers, they generally do,″ Dole told reporters in Overland Park, Kan.
Dole said he had enough spending left. ``It doesn’t take much to fly around as long as we’ve got the press on board and charge them 110 percent,″ he joked.
Dole has been dangerously close to the limit on primary campaign spending for months, and Democrats have been watching him closely for possible violations.
In response to the Democrats’ charges, the Dole campaign issued a single-page financial summary showing the primary committee sold $590,000 worth of mailing lists and other assets to his general election campaign last month _ a legal accounting maneuver to give it more spending room.
And campaign officials said they have $600,000 worth of assets, such as computers and telephones, left to sell.
But Fowler questioned the legality of the asset sales and said he had ``conclusive evidence the Dole campaign is intentionally breaking federal election law.″
Barbour called the Democrats’ complaint ``a transparent effort to throw sand in the voters’ eyes″ and distract them from the Whitewater affair and other issues.
Based on estimates of Dole’s spending during May, the Democrats said he had already exceeded the limit by at least $343,751.
They also said Dole had illegally shifted campaign costs to the Republican National Committee and state GOP parties, by allowing them to pay for travel costs for him, his wife, Elizabeth, and others making campaign appearances.
``Each day that goes by is one more day that Bob Dole is breaking the law,″ Fowler said, calling it an issue of character and honesty.
Barbour countered by calling on Clinton to return more than $11 million in taxpayer funds he received for his primary campaign, since Clinton faced no significant opposition within the Democratic Party.
And he accused Clinton of using Air Force One, White House staff members and other perks of office to aid his campaign, at taxpayer expense.
``He’s openly running his campaign out of the White House,″ Barbour said, adding that he was eager to debate ``character issues″ with the Clinton campaign anytime.