No GOP Revolution in Campaign Funding
By Dwight L. Morris
The permanent campaign was on full display last week, as the year-end financial reports for 1995 began flowing into the Federal Election Commission. As always, the reports make interesting reading, whether one is a political junkie, a journalist looking for a good story, a reformer seeking outrageous examples, or a stand-up comedian in search of material:
The first thing that one is likely to notice when pouring over the documents filed by House incumbents is that there is very little correlation between the desire to raise money and the likelihood of real competition.
Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) represents a district in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 3-to-1. Elected in 1980, Schumer has never faced primary opposition in seven reelection bids, and his winning general election percentage in those seven campaigns has never dropped below 72 percent. Nevertheless, he raised $1,112,554 during 1995 and increased his campaign cash reserves to $3,292,036.
Elected in 1984, >Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has never received less than 65 percent of the vote in any of his reelection contests. Last year DeLay raised $771,955. While Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) has run unopposed in every election since 1986, he felt compelled to raise $662,460 during the off-year. >Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-Mass.) raised $1,014,961 despite the fact that he has collected 72 percent of the vote or more in every election since 1986 and represents a district in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 8-to-1.
Far from being exceptions, Schumer, DeLay, Shuster, and Kennedy appear to represent the norm. As of Tuesday, the FEC had received reports from 378 House incumbents seeking reelection. Of that total, 95 had received 55 percent of the vote or less in either their 1994 primary or general election contest; 62 had garnered between 56 percent and 60 percent of the vote; 107 had collected between 61 percent and 70 percent; and 112 had coasted to victory with 70 percent of the vote or more in both the primary and general election.(Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)). Fund-raising totals for these groups show that those with the most difficult 1994 contests raised an average of $275,639 during 1995; the comparable figure for the 112 incumbents who had the least competitive races in 1994 was $249,921.
More vulnerable almost by definition, one might expect freshmen members to raise money furiously for the initial defense of their seats, and despite their reformist campaign slogans and "outsider" claims, the 1994 freshman class did just that.
After knocking off Democratic incumbent Peter Hoagland by fewer than 1,800 votes, Jon Christensen (R-Neb.) wasted no time in cashing in on his incumbency and his coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee. During his first year in office, Christensen raised $679,387, including $340,900 from individual donors who gave at least $200 and $265,975 from political action committees (PACs). By year's end, Christensen had campaign cash reserves of $509,859.
Fellow Republican freshman David M. McIntosh of Indiana raised $468,504 during 1995, salting away $360,320 for the first defense of his seat. McIntosh's windfall included $200,363 from PACs and $234,881 from large donations from individuals. Only $32,680 of his money came from individuals who gave less than $200.
Saddled with $385,589 of 1994 campaign debt, freshman Frank A. Cremeans (R-Ohio) raised $543,232 last year, reducing his debt to $136,574 and raising his campaign cash reserves to $201,804.
Freshman John Ensign (R-Nev.) began 1995 with debts $142,000, but after a fund-raising push that brought in $610,448 Ensign managed to retire his debts and build cash reserves of $340,152.
Not surprisingly, the money tended to flow fastest to those in the new Republican majority. While the average Democratic incumbent seeking reelection raised $196,528, their Republican counterparts collected an average of $265,703 a 35 percent fund-raising advantage. This was in sharp contrast to the 1994 election cycle, when Democrats seeking reelection raised an average of 17 percent more than their Republican colleagues.
Leading the Republican surge was >House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who raised $1,867,209. Gingrich raked in $917,625 from individuals who gave at least $200 and another $490,518 from PACs. Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri collected $1,322,429, including $548,911 from PACs.
Among the more amusing findings culled from these reports was the fact that Rep. Robert L. Livingston continues to file hand-written documents. For the past year, Livingston as been a leading critic of the FEC, attacking the agency for devoting too many of its resources to enforcing federal election laws and not enough money on new computers and electronic filing.
Ohio Rep. John R. Kasich, Republican point-man in the battle to balance the federal budget, filed a year-end report containing a $30 math error on the Summary and Disbursements page.
This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.
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