Democratic presidential hopeful Wesley K. Clark, who flirted with the idea of skipping public financing despite a late fund-raising start, announced Thursday that he would stay within the system.
The decision means Clark will be limited to $45 million in overall primary spending and will face state-by-state spending caps. He will be eligible for as much as $19 million in government funding.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean last week became the first Democrat ever to turn away public financing and its spending limits for the primaries. Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry is also considering skipping the system.
Clark, who started his campaign in late September, raised $3.5 million in the first two weeks. He expects to raise at least $6 million in the current fund-raising quarter, which runs from October through December.
That would have him finishing the year with less than half of the amount that front-runners Dean and Kerry have raised. Dean collected $25 million through September, according to the most recent figures available, while Kerry raised $20 million.
"We're raising money at a significant clip, which was why we waited so long to make the decision," Clark spokeswoman Kym Spell said.
However, she said, Clark ultimately decided to stay within public financing out of respect for the system and because it was the best decision for his campaign.
Clark has filed the initial paperwork with federal election regulators to qualify for the government campaign money. The Federal Election Commission will make the first payment in January.
President Bush has opted out of public financing for the primaries, as he did in his first bid, and is already at or over the record $106 million he raised in 2000.
Bush plans to accept full public funding for the general election.
Spell said Clark decided not to let Bush's prolific fund-raising affect his own campaign strategy. The retired general will have the resources he needs to run, she said.