Rich Tucker

Presidential hopeful Howard Dean is off the dole. And that’s a good thing.

The former Vermont governor already has raised more campaign cash than any of his Democratic rivals. Now, he says he’ll turn down the government’s generous offer of $18.7 million in federal matching funds and pay for his entire primary campaign out of his own coffers. That means he’ll be allowed to spend as much as he wants, while his opponents who accept public financing will be limited to about $45 million.

Predictably, the flinty doctor blamed President Bush for his decision. “The unabashed actions of [Bush] to thwart our democratic process with a flood of special interest money have forced us to abandon a broken system,” Dean huffed.

Of course, President Bush hasn’t broken the public campaign financing system. In fact, he’s played by its foolish rules, as set out in last year's McCain-Feingold campaign “reform” legislation. Bush has brought in more than $100 million so far and aims to top $170 million. But the president isn’t cashing in with “special-interest” donations. All of his cash was “hard money” -- donations made directly to his campaign by individuals.
By law, those donations are capped at $2,000.

Here’s where the system goes off the tracks. Although an individual can give only $2,000 directly to a candidate, he can give an unlimited amount to a private political organization. However, he cannot give that money to one of the major political parties.

That’s why billionaire George Soros recently donated $10 million to start a new group called America Coming Together. Soros makes no bones about the goal of his organization.
“I've come to the conclusion that one can do a lot more about the issues I care about by changing the government than by pushing the issues,” he recently told Fortune magazine.
He wants the president out, and is willing to pay to make that happen.

With $10 million in the bank, ACT could be a major player in next year’s election.
However, there’s a problem. Since it’s funded by soft money, ACT is not allowed to directly endorse a candidate. It can only engage in opposition research, get-out-the-vote efforts or voter education.

Think about it -- the people running ACT will very much want President Bush’s Democratic opponent to prevail next November. But the law prevents them from running ads encouraging people to vote for that Democrat. However, the group is free to spend as much as it wants on ads that educate (warn) voters that Bush is dangerous. The ads can be completely negative, as long as they don’t explicitly urge people to vote against Bush. Ironically, it sounds as if Americans Coming Together will be dedicated to driving Americans apart.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for