Robertson May Try to Avoid Spending Ceiling

Times Staff Writer

Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson has already spent nearly 80% of the money allowed under federal law and is considering returning the matching funds he has received from the federal government--a step that would allow him to continue spending without limit.

"We would like to give the matching funds back," Robertson spokesman Scott Hatch said Tuesday, but "we haven't decided because we don't have to yet."

The main question, according to Robertson's attorney, Marion Edwyn Harrison, is whether Robertson can raise enough money to do without the federal funds.

Has Raised $15.5 Million

So far, campaign sources say, the answer appears to be yes. Altogether, the former Christian broadcaster had raised about $15.5 million in private contributions through the end of January, according to the financial report filed with the Federal Election Commission by the campaign this week.

And, campaign officials say, the fund-raising pace has continued. Last week alone, one official said, Robertson raised more than $1 million as a result of a huge mailing after his strong showing in the Feb. 8 Iowa caucuses.

Robertson's money has been coming in in a flood of "nickels and dimes," Harrison said. Of January's $1.3 million, for example, only 11% came from people contributing $200 or more.

Such an influx of small contributions is ideal for the matching-fund system because the federal government matches contributions only up to $250.

Funds Put in Escrow

So far, Robertson has received $6.5 million in matching money, all of which has been placed, untouched, in escrow at a Virginia bank, Harrison said. Robertson used those funds in January as collateral to borrow $5.5 million--a possible problem if he seeks to return the matching funds.

Together, the contributions and the loans have allowed him to spend $21.9 million by Jan. 1 in pursuit of the GOP nomination, far more than either Vice President George Bush or Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas and not far from the limit of $27.66 million imposed on all candidates who accept federal matching funds.

Campaign aides would not say how much more Robertson has spent since the end of January, but all the leading campaigns spent heavily in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 8, the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 15 and the current campaigns leading up to the March 8 Super Tuesday primaries in Southern states.

Exceeding FEC spending limits is punishable only by a fine.

Unlike other candidates, Robertson had begun spending heavily in the South even before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests. "Our groundwork has been laid already in the South, going down to the precinct level," Hatch said. "We've made the investment that other campaigns now are doing."

Heavy Spending in Texas

Robertson, for example, reported spending $1,068,372 by the end of January to win votes in Texas. By comparison, Bush reported having spent $335,743; Dole, $81,645, and Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, $11,312. Robertson's spending in Texas was the largest any candidate has reported spending in any state so far in the campaign.

Although Texas is generally considered to be a stronghold for Bush, who once represented part of Houston in Congress, Robertson hopes to win substantial numbers of delegates there.

A candidate could win a majority of Texas' 111 delegates with a minority of the vote by carrying rural congressional districts, where Republican primary turnout is usually low. The primary winner in each of the state's congressional district wins all of that district's delegates. Robertson's forces have been busy organizing in just such areas.

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