16 July 1999
Our current howler (part I): With everything on it
Synopsis: Connolly and Glasser continue along with gruesome campaign finance spinning.
Bushs Big Bankroll and What It Means
Jill Abramson, The New York Times, 7/2/99
Bushs Fund-Raising Opens Huge Disparity
Dan Balz, The Washington Post, 7/1/99
Bradleys Campaign Bankroll Nearly Equals Gores
Ceci Connolly and Susan B. Glasser, The Washington Post, 7/16/99
Bush Forgoes Federal Funds And Has No Spending Limit
Don Van Natta Jr., The New York Times, 7/16/99
If you're running for president, how much can you spend? There's
no way to find out from this press corps! Today, the papers report
on recent filings about the hopefuls' fund-raising totals. And
basic numbers about allowed spending have changed around again.
Just two weeks ago, the New York Times said this:
ABRAMSON: If [Bush] refuses matching funds he can spend whatever
he likes in the early primary and caucus states...The candidates
who accept matching funds will have to cap their overall spending
in the primaries at a figure somewhere near $33.5 million.
The Post agreed with that view:
BALZ: Already, Bush has raised more than the estimated $33.5
million he could legally spend if he accepts matching funds.
You'll recall what we said at the time (see THE DAILY HOWLER,
7/6/99). When the papers were pegging Gore as the Big Money Guy,
they had said he was trying to raise $55 million. And we noted
that the $33 million the papers were suddenly touting didn't include
the legal, accounting and fund-raising expenses that were part
of what hopefuls can spend. It looked to us like the papers were
trying to hype the amount that Bush had raised--using a construct
that let them say he had already raised more than other hopefuls
would be permitted.
Today, the papers report on money again, and the numbers are
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER: Under the post-Watergate system, [Bush's]
rivals will each have to adhere to an overall spending limit of
about $40 million...in exchange for the matching funds.
No word of where they got the new number, but the Times was
using it too:
VAN NATTA: Mr. Bush...will not be restricted by a spending limit
of nearly $40 million that applies to candidates who accept matching
funds in the primaries.
A simple call to the FEC told us that nothing has changed in
the past two weeks--except the construct the papers are using.
Yep. Whoever said "facts are stubborn things" just hasn't
been reading this press corps.
And this isn't the only hard-to-parse number found in this
morning's reporting. Tell us this: How much has the Gore campaign
raised? Today's New York Times says $19.5 million; USA Today and
the Washington Times say $17.5 million. The Washington Post says
$17.5 million, but then this tiny footnote appears in a table:
THE WASHINGTON POST (7/16): **Does not include $1.9 million
raised for general election legal expenses.
So for what it's worth, Gore has brought in $19.5 million,
with $2 million set aside for that GELAC fund that led to mischief
in earlier reporting.
Indeed, we can only marvel at the various ways the Post can
spin down Gore's fund-raising. Take a minute to ponder this passage:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER: On the Democratic side, the Gore team
once believed money would be one of the vice president's greatest
assets. At the start of the year, there was heady talk of bankrolling
$55 million by early 2000. But Gore has had trouble building a
cohesive, affordable campaign team and [Bill] Bradley has turned
out to be a formidable fund-raiser in his own right.
There's that "$55 million" figure again, always useful
for setting up spin. The writers imply that Gore won't reach this
goal, set in headier times. In fact, though it makes for excellent
negative spin, there is no reason to think that assessment is
true. If one understands how this figure breaks down, Gore seems
pretty much right on target.
Of the $55 million the Post hung on Gore's chest in its gruesome
April 4 magazine piece (see links below), $16 million would come
from matching funds; Gore sought to raise only $39 million.
And, as we see from today's Post: when the tiny footnotes are
added in, Gore has already raised half that amount. Bush is raising
unprecedented sums, dwarfing what anyone else has brought in.
But Gore's fund-raising is proceeding along at what would otherwise
be a record-setting pace. It's a fact the Post would almost surely
be telling you, with gloomy warnings from Fred Wertheimer, if
it couldn't give you this other silly spin.
The Post's ability to spin the digits shows up in one other
area. At one point, Connolly and Glasser simply gape at how frugal
the Bush team has been:
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER: New campaign finance reports...revealed
yesterday that Gore has spent far more than
either Bradley or Bush, waging a consultant-heavy campaign
that spent heavily to raise the money it took in. Although Gore
has raised $17.5 million--about $1 million less than his campaign
estimated two weeks ago--he had just $9.3 million left, more than
$2 million ahead of Bradley.
The scribes go on to ooh and aah over Bush's savvy use of cold
CONNOLLY AND GLASSER: Bush raised a total of $37 million--more
than any presidential candidate ever--but spent only $7.2 million
on his frugal, hot-dogs-for-dinner operation.
They seem to relish the point. But has Gore spent "far
more than Bush?" We sent the figures to our Arithmetic Wing,
where our experts--fourth-graders--did some ciphering. They tell
us that Gore has spent $8.2 million, compared to Bush's $7.2.
That probably didn't make for a good enough spin, so the scribblers
never stated how much Gore had spent. Instead, they penned a pointless
paragraph about percentages spent by the hopefuls:
CONOLLY AND GLASSER: Overall, Bush has spent only 19 percent
of what he's raised, compared with 37 percent for Bradley and
46 percent for Gore.
But these figures don't necessarily measure frugality; they
also measure percentage of people called saying "yes."
A fund-raising campaign that is doing well will always have a
lower overhead by percentage. And the saddest fact in the
Post's latest gong show: to get the Gore figure up to 46%, the
writers simply ignored the $2 million raised for the GELAC fund.
Gore's $8.2 million spent is forty-two percent of the total
he has actually raised. There really seems to be no end to the
ways these two will spin up their stories.
Today's article continues the Post's gruesome coverage of this
year's presidential fund-raising. This article is simply drenched
in spin; it should be an embarrassment for the Post. Can we tell
you what the Post would do, if it simply wanted to inform its
readers? It would just print tables in place of stories, showing
how much has been spent and raised. Post readers would be able
to go through the data, and see the basic facts for themselves.
But Connolly and Glasser have made it clear they aren't willing
or able to write a straight story. Today's display is another
fine mess--another tribute to spin over substance.
Go figure: We don't know where the Post and Times got
the new figure for permitted spending. The FEC tells us today
the approximate spending figures have not changed; a hopeful will
be able to spend $33.5 million for campaigning, $6.7 million for
legal/accounting, and $6.7 million for fund-raising. Two weeks
ago, that added up to "$33.5 million." Today, it's "about/almost
$40 million." No explanations offered. Go figure.
Visit our incomparable archives: Boy, are we sick of looking
up these dates! Anyway, for past work in this area, see THE DAILY
HOWLER, 7/6/99, with links to previous reporting.