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Biden May Take Public Funds

Is Sen. Joseph Biden going to become the latest presidential candidate to apply for federal matching funds during the primary season?

A fundraising appeal Biden sent by e-mail to supporters today under the heading "Double your impact!" suggests that he is planning just that.

"As you know, we are taking every necessary step in order to compete during the final weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd. One of these steps includes the campaign preparing a submission in order to qualify for matching funds," the e-mail states. "What this means is public financing will MATCH every individual contribution up to $250."

The letter did not specify whether he would actually accept the matching funds, though his promise to seek a match for incoming contributions suggests that he has all-but-committed to heading that way.

Biden spokesman Larry Rasky said the campaign was in the process of preparing an application, and that it expected a ruling from the Federal Election Commission by Dec. 15 at the latest. The FEC will determine if Biden qualifies for matching funds, and how much he qualifies for.

The e-mail appears to promise donors that their contributions will be matched with federal funds: "Those that contribute up to $250, through matching funds, will see their contribution doubled. $10 becomes $20. $50 becomes $100. $250 becomes $500."

But Biden campaign aides said the senator "still has not made a final decision on public financing."

"If we do take public financing then it will be doubled," said Marion Steinfels. " As soon as we make a final decision we will let folks know. If we do, than these donations will be matched."

Campaign strategists said the application for federal funds can hardly be viewed as anything but a sign of trouble for Biden, who had raised $7 million during the first nine months of the year that he could use in the primary. He had $1.9 million in cash on hand as of Oct. 1 -- a small fraction of what has been stored up by Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Once he qualifies for the federal funds, Biden would be able to borrow against the first payout almost immediately, providing a quick infusion of money to pay for some critical expenses in the final weeks before the Iowa Caucus.

But compared to other Democratic candidates, Biden is not very well positioned to gain from the federal funds because so many of his donors -- about 78 percent -- wrote him $2,300 checks, the maximum allowed. Under the rules that govern how federal funds are doled out, a candidate receives a match only for the first $250 they get from each contributor.

So far, former Sen. John Edwards is the only Democrat to declare for certain his plans to accept the federal matching funds. Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for Sen. Chris Dodd has not ruled out taking federal funds. "We simply haven't made that decision at this time, but continue to look at our options," he said.

An FEC spokesman confirmed that both Biden and Dodd have requested certification for matching funds -- the first step in the process -- but neither campaign has told the FEC whether they intend to accept the funds.

--Matthew Mosk

By Washington Post editors  |  November 19, 2007; 4:01 PM ET
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