Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry may delay accepting his party's nomination to gain time to raise and spend private contributions and lessen President Bush's multimillion-dollar financial advantage, campaign officials said Friday.
The proposal would let Kerry hold off on spending his $75 million general-election budget for an extra month. The Democratic Party would still stage its national convention in Boston at the end of July, five weeks before the Republican National Convention in New York.
Kerry and Bush both are expected to accept $75 million in full federal funding for their general election campaigns. Once nominated, the candidates will be limited to spending the government money and can no longer raise or spend private contributions on the campaign.
The Kerry campaign "won't fight with one hand behind our back," spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Friday.
"Never in Democratic Party history has any nominee raised as much money as John Kerry," she said. "We're going to continue to ambitiously fund-raise and we believe our support will only grow."
Kerry's campaign and the Democratic National Committee are still considering the specifics of such a plan. Cutter said the nomination officially occurs after the delegate roll-call vote, so Democrats could have to find a way to recreate that or change party rules to delay the vote's effect for a month.
A Democratic official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one possibility would be to change the rules so the nomination takes place Sept. 1. Kerry could give a convention speech that stops short of accepting the nomination, and the convention could be recessed until Sept. 1, when delegates could vote by Internet or proxy.
Television networks were uncertain Friday how such a move would affect convention coverage. Over the past few conventions, live coverage has declined to a few hours per week.
"It's one more thing that's not happening at a convention," said Mark Lukasiewicz, who runs special events coverage for NBC News. "It's one more thing to factor in as we decide how much resources — financial and editorial — we have to give to convention coverage."
Kerry's decision could be weeks away. Other options include having the DNC or local and state parties raise more money to support Kerry's candidacy, Cutter said. Kerry would have no control over much of that money. By law, the DNC can coordinate $16 million to $18 million in spending with Kerry's campaign in the general election.
Kerry declined to comment Friday.
Kerry and Bush skipped public financing for the primary-election season, letting them spend as much as they wish until they are nominated at the conventions.
Since becoming the party's presumptive nominee in March, Kerry has broken Democratic fund-raising and spending records. He raised roughly $31 million last month, pushing his total to a Democratic record $117 million.
Kerry started May with $28 million in the bank, far less than Bush's $72 million but still a Democratic record. Bush has raised more than $200 million.
The crucial question, should Kerry try to stop the clock from ticking on his $75 million general-election financing, is when the Federal Election Commission considers Kerry nominated.
The FEC and courts have traditionally deferred to party rules to determine how a candidate is nominated, said Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel. The FEC provides the general-election financing after the candidate is nominated according to those party rules.
The DNC could change its nominating procedure before the convention, such as having delegates vote later, said Noble, head of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
However, delaying the nomination could affect the $14 million in government money the DNC received to hold its nominating convention, he said.
"They would have to come up with an argument that would basically look at the convention as continuing past the convention dates," Noble said. "In the end it would be up to the FEC and possibly the courts, if it's challenged."
Democrats would be wise to seek FEC advice before acting, commission spokesman Bob Biersack said, adding that the FEC has not faced such a question before.
Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt said throwing a DNC convention with government money only to nominate Kerry later could amount to a "bait-and-switch tactic on the American taxpayer."
"Maybe they've found a way to manipulate the federal law in such a way as to avoid that, but fundamentally this is about John Kerry thinking the rules that apply to everyone else don't apply to him," Holt said.
When Democrats scheduled the convention, they didn't know they would have a nominee who skipped primary public financing and its $45 million spending limit. They thought they would face the same situation they have for years: a nominee finishing the primaries close to the limit, with months to go before the convention and government financing.
Interest groups are paying close attention. A new law bans them from using corporate or union money on ads mentioning Kerry a month before he is officially nominated; the same rules apply to pre-GOP-convention ads on Bush.
If Kerry is nominated later, that could mean more time to run ads for and against him using the so-called soft money, said David Keating, executive director of the anti-tax Club for Growth, which opposes many Kerry policies and supports many of Bush's.
Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti, Ron Fournier and David Bauder contributed to this report.
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Federal Election Commission: http://www.fec.gov/