I am writing to place the most important decision of this campaign in your hands. We need to choose whether we will decline federal matching funds or accept them.
Our political system is drowning in a flood of large corporate interest money. The pens that sign the checks of the lobbyists in Washington are the same pens that write our legislation.
Oil corporations write energy laws in the Vice-President's office. The pharmaceutical industry drafts our Medicare laws. Billions of dollars worth of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan are awarded to Bush contributors. For the Republican primary election, even though he has no opponent, George Bush is raising $200 million from large corporate interests.
The Bush campaign is selling our democracy so they can crush their Democratic opponent.
We are building the only campaign that can stop this outrage. Our campaign has not been just talk about future reform, it has been the action of real reform. Through hundreds of thousands of donations averaging $77, the impossible is happening -- ordinary Americans are poised to overpower the largest mass of special interest money our nation has ever seen.
But soon our opportunity to compete dollar-for-dollar against George Bush's army of special interests may be gone. If we accept federal matching funds, our spending will be capped at $45 million -- and the greatest grassroots movement in the history of presidential politics will be stopped from raising money almost immediately and will reach the spending limit well before the end of the primaries. We will not have any funding until the Democratic convention at the end of July.
I have always been committed to public financing. But the federal matching funds law, though it was meant to provide an incentive for ordinary Americans to participate in the funding of our elections, is doing the opposite of what it intended. Right now, however, it could end up punishing a movement that has raised more from ordinary Americans than any campaign in history, while rewarding the campaign that has blatantly abused both the spirit and intent of campaign finance, selling off piece after piece of our country.
This is how the Bush campaign believes they can defeat us. If we accept federal matching funds -- and the $45 million spending cap that goes with it - they will have a $155 million spending advantage against us. From March through August, they will be able to define and distort us, and we will have no way to defend ourselves.
We do have the option to go toe-to-toe with the big corporate donors of George Bush by getting 2 million Americans to give a hundred dollars each. By declining matching funds, we free ourselves to raise the money needed to defend ourselves during the crucial months from March through August against the attacks of George Bush and his special interest backers.
But let me be clear, if you decide to decline federal matching funds, it will require a significant commitment from all of us who have brought this campaign to this point. Declining matching funds means turning down almost 19 million dollars that the federal government would give to this campaign.
That means we will have to raise that money ourselves if we are to win the primary, beat George Bush, and take our country back. Declining federal money and funding a campaign with grassroots support has never been done before, and if you choose this option it will be a challenge -- but with your commitment, your dedication and your hard work, we can do it.
This decision is no longer mine to make. This is a campaign of the people, by the people and for the people. Your successful effort of raising a historic amount of money through small contributions has made this choice possible. This is why I am putting this decision in your hands.
I am asking you to vote on what kind of a campaign we will conduct from this point forward. No matter how well intentioned both our options are - the choice is difficult: do we choose option (a) to fund our campaign ourselves and decline matching funds, or do we choose option (b) and accept federal matching funds and the spending limits?
You will receive a ballot via email on Thursday and have until midnight Friday to vote. The results will be announced on Saturday.
The fate of this campaign rests in your hands, and I believe the future of our American democracy rests on your decision.
Governor Howard Dean, M.D.