Spending Cap? What Spending Cap?

THEORETICALLY, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole each will get $62 million in federal funds--and can spend no more. But look again. The parties have plenty of ways to get around the cap, all countenanced by the law.

For starters, the two major parties are allowed to spend $12.4 million each in public funds on their conventions--glorified pep rallies for the top of the tickets. And they can spend an additional $12 million in so-called coordinated Presidential expenses for such things as media buys and phone banks.

Then there's "soft money"--megabuck private donations, ostensibly for "party building" activities. These funds invariably go to benefit the candidates. In the 18 months ended June 30, the Democrats had raised $70.3 million in soft money; the Republicans, $84 million.

Add in the pure special-interest money: "independent expenditures" by labor unions, business, and single-issue advocacy groups, which will soar as election day draws near. Unions alone estimate they'll spend $35 million on issue-oriented, pro-Democratic ads. Business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are trying to raise $20 million for a pro-Dole counteroffensive.

Ross Perot will get just $29.1 million in federal funds, based on his 1992 showing. His new Reform Party doesn't qualify for the other federal funds.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.