National Public Radio -- All Things Considered

Saturday, November 8, 2003

HEADLINE: Howard Dean discusses rejecting federal donations to his campaign


Today, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean took his campaign outside the federal restrictions on campaign spending. Since 1976, most presidential candidates have chosen to accept a limit on how much they spend in the primaries, and in return, they get federal donations to their campaigns. For a second straight election, President Bush is rejecting the money, which means that he can spend unlimited amounts, and today in Vermont, Howard Dean also said he would try to raise and spend unlimited amounts, a decision that he said was approved by his supporters voting online.

Former Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democratic Presidential Hopeful): Today, by a margin of 85 percent to 15 percent, the people who made this campaign possible have voted to decline public financing.

INSKEEP: And Governor Howard Dean joins us now by phone from Burlington, Vermont.

Governor, welcome.

Dr. DEAN: Thanks very much for having me on.

INSKEEP: Can you just explain why you thought it was so important to take this step?

Dr. DEAN: George Bush is raising $200 million from the most important corporate titans in America. Most middle-class people and working people in this country have been forgotten by the president. We want our country back, and the way to do it is to get two million people to give you a hundred dollars apiece, and that's what we're going to try to do. Our campaign is campaign finance reform. We've raised more money than every other Democrat in this race by getting 200,000 people to give us an average of $77.

INSKEEP: Governor, you've said you need to get the extra money in order to compete with President Bush. Should some of your Democratic rivals, including John Kerry, now go outside the financing limits in order to be able to compete with you?

Dr. DEAN: I think that's a decision that they have to make. We think that two million people will gladly pay a hundred dollars in this country in order to send George Bush back to Crawford, Texas, for a permanent vacation. We put this out to a vote to our supporters, and they voted by an 85-to-15 margin that we should drop out of the public finance system and raise the money ourselves in small donations.

INSKEEP: Well, explain that to me a little bit more, if you can. Exactly who was eligible to vote in this Internet poll that you conducted?

Dr. DEAN: Everybody who ever gave us money, people who were on our Internet system, which is about a half a million people, and we had over a hundred thousand of them vote.

INSKEEP: Should some people be suspicious of the fact that you are opting out of the only campaign restrictions that there really are at this point, whether this system is flawed or not, it's the only system there is?

Dr. DEAN: The problem is the campaign finance system works to the interest of George Bush, who dropped out of it a long time ago, and it hurts Democrats. If we stayed in, we'd be limited to spend $45 million, which—we'd all be broke by April 1st no matter who wins the nomination. And George Bush could have $170 million left to beat the daylights out of us until the convention. That is a prescription for Democrats losing.

INSKEEP: A number of campaign finance reform groups have publicly said that they are not going to criticize your course. They've said that perhaps your course is necessary because of what President Bush has done, but some of them are also calling on you to limit your spending, at least during the Democratic primaries, to $45 million, which is how much people who stay within the system would spend. Are you going to make such a pledge?

Dr. DEAN: We haven't made that decision yet. We just gave up $18 million in financing so we have a long, long way to go before we get anywheres close to having $45 million. We will make a decision on that, but we haven't even had that discussion yet.

INSKEEP: Under what circumstances would you go ahead and spend as much as you possibly could in the primaries?

Dr. DEAN: We just haven't had any discussions about that. We just haven't talked about it at all.

INSKEEP: In the course of making this news over the last couple of days and generating this tremendous attention among your supporters, I'm told that you've also generated a good deal more money.

Dr. DEAN: We have. We've raised about $1/2 million in small donations and we have about $5 million in pledges in small donations. Now...

INSKEEP: That have just come in in the last couple of days?

Dr. DEAN: Yeah. Now that's really important, but our goal is to match the president's.

INSKEEP: And I'd like to ask about one other subject before I let you go, Governor.

Dr. DEAN: Sure.

INSKEEP: Of course, you've made news a couple of different ways this week. You expressed regret for the way in which you raised the issue of reaching out to Southern voters. You were criticized for saying that you wanted people who displayed the Confederate flag to consider supporting the Democratic Party.

Dr. DEAN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Having backed away from those remarks to some extent, can you describe what your Southern strategy is?

Dr. DEAN: Well, the Southern strategy has not changed. We are not going to win in the South unless we can put back the coalition of Southern white voters and African-American voters who vote on their economic interests. The Republicans have been very successful since Richard Nixon's Southern strategy in 1968 at dividing us by race. We should be voting together on economic interests, and that's what the Democrats are going to have to do in the South is to talk about jobs which have left, is to talk about schools which need to be better, is to talk about health insurance. You know, there are a lot of Southern white voters that want to do that, as well as African-American voters, and that's the point I was trying to make, but I should not have used the image of the Confederate flag and, you know, that's why I apologized for using it.

INSKEEP: Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean is a Democratic presidential candidate who has today renounced public financing for that campaign in the primary.

Governor, thanks very much.

Dr. DEAN: Thank you, Steve.

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