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Despite North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ quick-from-the-gate start raising $7.4 million in campaign cash since Jan. 1, Sen. John Kerry narrowly remains the top fundraiser amongst Democratic presidential contenders. Kerry has raised more than $7.5 million in his bid to become his party’s standard-bearer against President George W. Bush, including more than $7 million since Jan. 1 (Kerry started raising money late last year). Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the former House Democratic leader, is third with $3.6 million.

According to a Center of Public Integrity analysis, the early scramble for money has again shown the power of donors who can afford to write big checks. More than half of contributions came from donors who gave $1,000 or more, and $13 million of the $30 million raised by the declared Democratic candidates came from those who wrote a check for the $2,000 maximum.

The Center’s analysis shows that attorneys dominated Democratic fundraising, with more than $6.5 million of the field’s $30 million coming from attorneys. In fact, every one of the candidates has raised more money from attorneys than from any other profession.

Most noticeable in that total is Edwards, himself a prominent trial lawyer before he first ran for the Senate in 1998. Close to 60 percent of the contributions he received came from the legal sector.

So far, Edwards’ campaign has not raised significant funds from any other specific industry, although he did receive $50,750 from investment bankers at Goldman Sachs, possibly a signal of future support from Wall Street.

Lawyers also provided $1 million of Kerry’s $7.5 million and more than $527,000 of Gephardt’s $3.6 million.

Lee Sigelman, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said that support may come in part because of the Democratic Party’s common cause with trial lawyers against Republican-backed caps on jury awards.

But there’s more to it than that, he said. “Lawyers tend to be politically ambitious. They tend to make long–term alliances with high level electoral politicians.”

While most of the Democratic field started raising money this year, Kerry and Gephardt took advantage of federal election laws—which allow virtually unrestricted use of money raised during past elections—to transfer more than $2 million each accrued during their lengthy congressional careers into their presidential campaigns.

With the addition of those funds, Kerry’s total campaign account jumped to more than $10 million, locking in his lead in the Democratic money race. Indeed, despite outspending Edwards so far, Kerry has more than $8 million in the bank. Edwards’ campaign has $5.7 million and Gephardt has nearly $5 million, putting him in striking distance of second place.

Three other Democrats have brought in more than $1 million: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the 2000 vice presidential nominee, raised $3 million; former Vermont Governor Howard Dean raised $2.9 million; and Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the ranking member on the Senate intelligence committee, raised about $1 million.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio ($180,080), former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois ($72,450) and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York round out the Democratic field. Sharpton has not filed a report of fundraising for his presidential exploratory committee, which is required of all candidates who have raised or spent more than $5,000.

So far combined spending by the Democratic field tops $7 million, with the bulk of that going to fundraisers, Washington staffs and consultants. Less than $1 million has been allocated for spending in primary states, despite a primary schedule that is more front-loaded than any since the primary system began in the late 19th century.

Kerry’s $2 million in campaign spending has gone mostly to travel, staff expenses and fundraising costs. According to the campaign’s reports to the FEC, $344,585.84 went directly to efforts in primary states.

About 20 percent of Gephardt’s $1 million in spending went to efforts in primary states, with the largest other expenditures on staff, fundraising and travel.

Edwards has spent only $47,000 on direct primary efforts. His $1.7 million in campaign spending has gone largely to staff, travel and fundraising expenses. (The Edwards campaign has also announced that it will refund $10,000 to the employees of an Arkansas law firm whose principal had agreed to reimburse employees, according to an April 18 Washington Post article.)

The spending patterns are understandable, says Sigelman. It merely shows that the January 2004 beginning of the caucus and primary season is still a long way off.

“They’re putting together their organizations, and putting together their campaigns rather than figuring out what they’re going to spend in New Hampshire (or) what they’re going to spend in Iowa,” he said.

President George W. Bush has yet to formally announce his re-election campaign, and has not begun raising money. In the first three months of 1999, Bush raised $7.6 million, by far the most among the Republican primary candidates. Since Bush will most likely run unopposed for the Republican nomination, money he raises for the primaries can be used to fuel his November 2004 re-election bid.

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