WASHINGTON Sen. John McCain raised more than $15 million in March for his presidential campaign, a top performance for the likely Republican nominee that still falls far short of the cash gathered by rival Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The amount was confirmed to The Associated Press by two campaign officials speaking on condition of anonymity because the numbers haven't been made public.
One official said McCain intends to accept public financing in the general election a sum of about $84 million. McCain donors are now being asked to supplement that public financing with donations to the Republican National Committee, with a goal of raising $120 million through a joint Victory Committee.
McCain's March fundraising and the decision to seek public financing in the fall are two separate tracks that highlight the superior fundraising by the Democratic candidates.
Obama raised $40 million in March, bringing his total so far in the campaign to about $234 million. Clinton raised $20 million for a total of more than $175 million during the entirety of the contest. McCain has raised about $75 million since he began running last year.
Clinton has raised at least $22 million for the general election and is expected to raise her own money if she is the Democratic nominee. Obama, who once said he would take public money if his Republican rival did, has made no commitment and is under pressure to use his formidable fundraising in the general election as well.
No presidential candidate has rejected public financing in the general election since the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms of the 1970s. The money is financed by taxpayers who check off a $3 allocation to the presidential fund on their tax returns.
McCain had raised about $3 million for the general election, but the campaign has been returning the money. Instead, it is asking those donors to make out checks to a special general election fund that can only be used to pay for legal and accounting costs required to comply with campaign finance law.
McCain's campaign nearly succumbed from weak fundraising and overspending last summer. But he rebounded and bypassed public financing for the primary a step that gave him more flexibility on spending in the early presidential nominating contests. The Arizona senator has been a leading proponent of limiting the influence of money in political campaigns. His decision to seek public financing in the general election appears to be motivated by a pragmatic realization that he would be hard-pressed to raise more money than the $84 million available to him from the federal treasury.
By setting up a joint fundraising committee with the national Republican Party, McCain can maximize the donor power of his contributors. Donors who contribute to the Victory Committee could give up to $30,800. Of that, $28,500 could go to the party and $2,300 to McCain, provided they had not donated to McCain before. Previous McCain donors could still contribute the maximum $28,500 to the party.
The party money will be used to support McCain's campaign with phone banks, direct mail and even political ads. Campaign officials plan to follow the lead set by the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, when it evenly split the cost of more than $80 million in political ads that supported Bush or criticized Democrat John Kerry. The Democratic National Committee and the Kerry-Edwards campaign also split the costs of about $22 million in ads.
Last year, the Federal Election Commission divided evenly on whether such a step by the RNC and the Bush-Cheney campaign was proper. The FEC decided to formulate a specific rule covering such so-called "hybrid ads." But the six-member commission now has four vacancies and has not been able to act on the pending regulation.
Without a rule that says otherwise, McCain's campaign can enhance its advertising spending by sharing the cost with the RNC. So far, the Republican National Committee has been a far more effective fundraiser than the Democratic National Committee. At the end of February, the RNC had $25 million in the bank; the DNC had $4.8 million.