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Democrats Eye Gore’s Funds

Ex-VP Can Give $7M to Party

Cash-starved Democrats are formulating the best approach to convince former Vice President Al Gore to contribute the nearly $7 million left in his federal compliance account to help elect their candidates in November.

To date, only the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has actually approached Gore about making a large contribution to the organization from his General Election Legal and Accounting Compliance committee, which was formed during his 2000 presidential run.

That request, which came roughly four months ago, was quietly rebuffed by Gore, who said at the time he was devoting his energies almost exclusively to the presidential campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), according to knowledgeable party insiders.

Neither the Democratic National Committee nor the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has approached Gore about his GELAC stockpile, according to officials with both committees.

Even so, the fate of the remaining $6.6 million in Gore’s GELAC committee is on the minds of many Democrats these days. “What is Gore going to do with his millions?” mused a former aide to the vice president.

Gore appears to have three options available to him.

In the eyes of the Federal Election Commission, the GELAC money is viewed as “excess campaign funds,” according to spokesman Bob Biersack.

Although both Gore and George W. Bush accepted public financing for the general election campaign in 2000, the FEC allows the formation of GELAC committees to defray the legal costs of spending the roughly $70 million given to each candidate.

Because Gore raised significantly more into the fund than was needed to fund those activities, he can now use the extra money to help pay for costs related to his presidential campaign, donate the money to charity or make unlimited contributions to local, state or national party committees, said Biersack.

Since the start of 2001, Gore has transferred $1.9 million to his presidential account for “wind down expenses.” He also gave the Tennessee Democratic Party $450,000 last summer, the only contribution to anyone other than himself that Gore has made from the account since 2001.

But with millions of hard dollars still sitting in a bank account and the Democratic Party well on its way to being outraised and outspent by their Republican counterparts, Gore is likely to face increasing pressure to make large contributions before November.

“Al Gore is as dedicated as anyone to beating George W. Bush,” said Kerry’s deputy campaign manager, Steve Elmendorf.

“I am sure we and the DNC and other groups will have conversations as we go along about this,” he added. “If there is any way he can help, that would be great.”

Elmendorf noted that no one on Kerry’s staff has spoken to Gore or his surrogates about the GELAC funds.

Although some Democrats had hoped that Gore could either transfer his entire war chest directly to Kerry’s principal campaign committee or to Kerry’s GELAC account, neither is possible, according to a Democratic election law attorney,who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Gore “can’t give it to another [presidential] campaign,” said the lawyer.

Kerry has wowed with his fundraising in 2004; his campaign said last week it raised $50 million between Jan. 1 and March 31. It has not released a cash-on-hand figure, however.

Through Feb. 29, Kerry’s GELAC committee had $159,000 on hand, all of which came in the form of transfers from his main campaign committee.

President Bush had nearly $1.4 million in his GELAC account at the end of February. His campaign has raised more than $180 million so far this cycle, including more than $50 million in the first three months of 2004.

Dean was the only other Democratic presidential candidate to open a GELAC account in expectation of winning the party’s nomination.

At the end of February, the former Vermont governor had $70,000 in that fund.

Dean has founded a new group called Democracy for America, which has a hard-dollar political action committee as one of its components.

Dean could transfer the money in his GELAC account to the new DFA committee at any point.

Given the strictures on transferring GELAC money directly to Kerry, some observers say the most effective way for Gore to bring his resources to bear on the presidential race is a donation to the DNC, which could then spend the money on voter-turnout efforts and advertising that would tangentially aid Kerry’s campaign.

“While we are certainly aware of the funds and would of course welcome any aid from former Vice President Al Gore, we have not asked about these resources,” said DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera.

Below the presidential level, both the DCCC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee could use a cash infusion from Gore as well.

The DCCC raised $11.5 million in the first three months of 2004, compared to $20 million raised by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC had nearly $4 million more on hand at the end of March.

The disparity is even more clear on the Senate side, where the National Republican Senatorial Committee had $10 million more in the bank than the DSCC through March 31.

A seven-figure donation from Gore could go a long way toward rectifying that problem.

“Recent developments in the Senate map prove that the DSCC is a good investment and we certainly hope that Vice President Gore and other party leaders will continue to invest in our efforts — and you can be sure we will ask,” said DSCC spokeswoman Cara Morris.

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