Gary Hart can use some donations to his 1988 presidential campaign to pay $1.1 million in debts from his 1984 White House bid, concluded a Federal Election Commission draft report prepared for discussion Thursday.
Election law generally prohibits the use of this year's campaign funds to pay off debts from an earlier presidential bid, but FEC General Counsel Lawrence Noble described legal provisions for the former Colorado senator to do it in the preliminary opinion released on the eve of Thursday's commission meeting.The FEC was left to vote on the opinion before it could be implemented; Hart previously had been told that while an active candidate he could not use 1988 donations toward the $1.1 million sought by vendors and others since 1984.
Noble wrote that once Hart reimburses the government as required and honors all obligations from this year's Democratic race, which he aborted first in May and again this month after a brief revival, any leftover money could go toward the debts that have hounded him since he challenged Walter Mondale for the party's nomination four years ago.
"Once Hart '88 makes its required repayment to the U.S. Treasury of the appropriate portion of that unexpended balance and has satisfied all other repayment obligations or penalty payments, it may retain remaining funds in its accounts and use them to retire 1984 campaign debts," Noble wrote.
Attorney Bernard Schneider of Newport Beach, Calif., the Hart campaign's former general counsel who asked the FEC for permission to use 1988 funds toward 1984 debts, explained in a telephone interview that Hart set aside $110,000, or 10 percent, of the $1.1 million in federal matching funds he received during his interrupted 1988 campaign.
"We anticipate that there will be some excess funds available," Schneider said.
Thirty percent of all money Hart received for his 1988 campaign came from taxpayer federal matching funds, Schneider said; once other 1988 obligations are paid, 30 percent of any remaining money must go back to the Treasury. He said it would be then that excess funds could be used to pay the 1984 debts.