The Bush campaign poured $13.8 million into winning the post-election battle for Florida's 25 electoral college votes, roughly four times what the Gore campaign spent, according to documents released yesterday.
The multiple reports to the Internal Revenue Service demonstrate the powerful fundraising abilities of the Republican Party and President Bush: Almost all the money was raised in contributions of $5,000 or less, with gifts of less than $200 nearly equaling the total of $3.2 million that Gore raised. Gore set no limits on the size of contributions.
The money was used to pay for lawyers who handled recount disputes in counties across Florida, staffers who maintained what amounted to a campaign operation through the month-long ordeal, and to finance travel, food, hotels and hundreds of other expenses.
Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer for the Bush-Cheney recount drive, said there was no legal obligation to release the more than 100-page document and the decision to disclose it was taken voluntarily to mute any controversies.
"We don't think we have a legal obligation to file this," Ginsberg said, arguing that the recount committee was set up as part of the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, eliminating any requirement to report to the IRS. Under Federal Election Commission rules, he said, recount funds do not have to be reported. "We still think we are exempt, but the truth is: Why not take the issue off the table," he said.
Public Citizen, which advocates strong enforcement of election laws, said "the recount fund created by the Bush-Cheney 2000 presidential campaign evaded a soft money campaign finance disclosure law for 18 months and did not file required forms until the last day of an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 'amnesty' program for out-of-compliance groups."
If the recount committee had failed to meet the IRS amnesty deadline, it could have been subject to fines of as much as $6.92 million, according to Public Citizen.
The Gore-Lieberman Recount Committee never disputed its obligation to report receipts and expenditures to the IRS, and its reports have been available on the IRS Web site for more than a year.
The Gore-Lieberman campaign created what is known in IRS terminology as a "527 committee." Such committees can receive unlimited gifts, as opposed to a federal campaign committee, to which an individual can only give $1,000. In 2000, Congress passed legislation requiring 527 committees to file publicly available reports with the IRS.
The Bush-Cheney Recount Fund is also a 527 committee.
The Bush money was used to pay huge bills for legal fees, telephone charges, travel and hotel bills. Among the major payments were $1.2 million for salaries; $253,000 to AT&T, $385,000 to the Chicago law firm Bartlit Bech Herman Palenchar, $237,000 to the Fort Lauderdale firm Conrad & Scherer; $1.9 million to First USA Financial Services for hotel, airplane and other charges; $892,000 to the Washington firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher; $433,000 to the Florida Republican Party.
In addition, the fund paid two controversial companies for the use of their jets: Just over $13,000 to Enron Corp. and $2,400 to Halliburton Co.
The Bush recount fund listed receipts of $9.4 million and expenditures of $13.8 million. Ginsberg said the discrepancy was the result of the fact that gifts of less than $200 do not have to be reported.
In contrast to the Bush-Cheney fund, the Gore-Lieberman committee set no limits on the size of individual gifts. It took $500,000 from philanthropist Steven Kirsch, $200,000 from Hollywood producer Stephen Bing and $100,000 from actress Jane Fonda, along with numerous gifts in the $25,000 to $100,000 range.
Some of the major payments made by the Gore-Lieberman committee include: $308,000 to the Democratic polling firm run by Stan Greenberg; $570,000 to the Florida law firm Berger, Davis & Singerman; $200,000 to the political consulting firm Dewey Square Group; $38,000 to Gore campaign chairman William M. Daley; and at least $79,000 to Boston political consultant and lawyer Jack Corrigan.