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DOLE TAPPING LOOPHOLES TO PAY FOR RACE

Bob Dole is about to set a new standard on how to take advantage of the numerous loopholes in federal campaign finance laws.

Dole, who is giving up the trappings of his congressional office, has plenty of money and can raise a lot more, but under the law he can't spend very much more from his own account.Past candidates have already blazed the way on how to take advantage of truck-size loopholes that allow party committees to keep campaigns going.

Dole, according to those in the campaign finance business, will just make the loopholes bigger.

Because Dole and President Clinton accepted federal matching funds, they each are limited to spending $37 million through the August political conventions.

Then each will get a $62 million check from the Federal Election Commission for their fall campaigns. The money comes from voluntary contributions from taxpayers (the little box on your tax return).

Dole could be down to $1 million or less before August.

Last week the Republican National Committee announced a $20 million TV ad blitz attacking President Clinton, keeping Dole's campaign alive until he gets the FEC's $62 million check.

GOP committees are legally allowed to run "issue advocacy" ads as long as they don't advocate the election of a particular candidate. Such ads can - and do - attack opponents.

The Democratic National Committee has run such ads, but Clinton does not have the same problem as Dole because he did not face a contested primary campaign.

Party committees often absorb staff members from the nominee in the months before the convention to reduce the campaign's payroll.

In the past six weeks, the RNC has taken on a number of new employees who had worked on the Dole campaign. At the RNC, they can't do the exact same job they were doing for Dole, but they can work on fall campaign activities.

Where Dole is likely to pioneer new ways around federal campaign finance laws is his expected widespread use of party funds to cover the actual costs of his campaigning.

The campaign trail is expensive, but FEC officials said it appeared that as long as Dole spoke at events sponsored by the RNC or state parties, those groups could pick up the costs.

Democratic officials say they will scrutinize Dole's activities and won't hesitate to file complaints with the FEC, which regulates federal elections.

"There are likely to be a lot of open questions" said FEC spokeswoman Sharon Snyder.

Regardless of what the FEC finds about such complaints it is unlikely to do anything until well after the election. Typically presidential campaign audits take years.