Dean.com Bust

The top story on The New York Times site right this minute is the shakeup in Howard Dean’s campaign: Joe Trippi out and a Gore lieutenant in. But the news I found most interesting was the mention of Dean’s finances: He raised $41 million through Dec. 31 (the excellent OpenSecrets.org is worth checking, though it currently posts reports only through Oct. 15, 2003) and has spent it all; the Times says he has $4 million or $5 million on hand, the cash raised since the first of the year; the Washington Post reports the cash situation prompted the campaign to skip further TV advertising in next week’s primary states.

So where did that mountain of Internet money go? The campaign reportedly spent $9 million-plus on TV advertising so far. What about the other $32 million? What combination of plane leases, candidate and staff housing, salaries, broadband access, toner and Dunkin’ Donuts runs adds up to that? I’d love to see the books, out of sheer curiosity.

Most likely, all the campaigns spend money fast, since the name of the game is gettng results now; and this isn’t the first time a promising candidate has burned a big bank balance with little to show for it. But to read that most of the capital is used up already and that the campaign will survive only with another big round of donations carries a whiff of the worst of the dot-com bust: We’ve got such a hot business plan/candidate, we need a big hit of venture capital/contributions right now. It’ll be awhile before we see results, but the upside could be huge. And then you wind up with office suites full of nice computers and furniture to sell for 20 cents on the dollar. Not that that’s where Dean & Co. is headed, necessarily. You can’t avoid the feeling, though, that investors just got word their stock is sick.

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