Summer is just beginning in Washington, and the election is 18 months away, with the campaign officially opening in the autumn. But that rustling sound you can hear around the city is not the sound of wind on cherry blossom: it is money being sucked into the coffers of the main contestants for the White House. A credible candidate must collect about $20m (pounds 12m) by the end of this year.
So far, four are in the running: Al Gore, Vice-President, and former senator Bill Bradley for the Democrats; and George W Bush, Governor of Texas, and Senator John McCain for the Republicans. The latest fund-raising figures were released by the Federal Electoral Commission two weeks ago, and the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a Washington think-tank, has produced an exhaustive analysis of the cash.
Mr Gore has attracted most of the Hollywood money, from stars including Michael Douglas, who hedged his bets with a gift to Mr Bradley as well. The former senator from New Jersey was once a basketball star, and has also received a donation from Michael Jordan, the former star of the Chicago Bulls. The Eagles, the quintessential California band, is no more, but former members Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley have all stumped up for Mr Gore.
Indeed, California, with New York and Washington, is Mr Gore's main funding base. Mr Bradley has done well in New York and New Jersey, but also, surprisingly, in the Democratic heartland of Illinois.
Mr Bush is, however, far from penurious. Half his money comes from his home turf of Texas - much of it from big law firms. In theory, companies are forbidden from making donations, but the partners and employees of several have written him checks for $1,000, the maximum allowed. By a remarkable coincidence, many of the people who work for Ernst & Young have simultaneously had a fit of generosity towards Mr Gore.
"All the candidates collected large sums of `bundled' contributions from employees of the same organisations, particularly law firms and securities firms," the CRP said. The single largest group of donors has been lawyers and law firms. Mr Gore has also benefited from Goldman Sachs largesse, while Mr Bradley has received big donations from people associated with JP Morgan.
Mr Gore - who is seen as much more favourable towards Israel than Bill Clinton - has also received a large sum from people connected with the National Jewish Democratic Council, according to the CRP.
One of the biggest categories of donors is retired people, but this does not mean that pensioners have been scrimping and saving to do their bit. Mr Jordan, who commands a personal economy worth billions in endorsements, commercials and products, apparently calls himself a retired basketball player. Similarly in the "retired" category are members of the Rockefeller family.
How The Candidates' Funds Stand
Candidate Raised Spent Cash in Hand
Al Gore (Dem) $8,881,997 $2,031,342 $6,850,634
George W Bush (Rep) $7,604,593 $854,521 $6,750,072
Bill Bradley (Dem) $4,301,882 $1,474,687 $2,867,755
John McCain (Rep) $3,772,419 $1,001,923 $2,770,496
Dan Quayle (Rep) $2,106,323 $1,605,879 $500,444
Gary Bauer (Rep) $1,372,886 $883,518 $489,368
Lamar Alexander (Rep) $748,773 $661,857 $86,916
Steve Forbes (Rep) $712,544 $599,004 $113,539
Elizabeth Dole (Rep) $686,253 $108,210 $578,043
Pat Buchanan (Rep) $522,870 $226,843 $326,027
Robert C Smith (Rep) $300,572 $124,217 $60,141
Figures for first quarter 1999; Source: Center for Responsive PoliticsReuse content