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    Money Talks

    The Self-Financing Campaign

    By Dwight L. Morris
    February 18, 1996

    Rep. David Dreier never wants to lack for campaign funds, on the off chance he might actually have a strong opponent in his California district.

    In fact, the Republican has raised so much money for his campaign bank account over the last dozen years that the mere interest on his cash almost pays for his campaign every two years.

    To top it off, one of the biggest expenses of Dreier's campaign is paying taxes on the interest.

    A Close Call in 1982

    Dreier has never forgotten the lessons he learned in 1982, when redistricting forced him into an intra-party primary fight with fellow Republican Rep. Wayne Grisham. Dreier was only a freshman, going against Grisham's two terms of experience. Although he ultimately outspent Grisham by well over 2-to-1, Dreier's 57 percent winning percentage still ranks as his closest election victory. And raising the money wasn't easy.

    "Once he got into that race, the money just wasn't there," explained Brad Smith, Dreier's staff director. "After that, he felt he had to have his campaign ready at all times, just in case."

    Another census, another reapportionment, another district

    Through the 1980s, Dreier prepared for the next U.S. Census, which meant redrawing the district lines and perhaps another primary battle.

    Determined that he would be prepared for any electoral difficulties that might arise, Dreier embarked on a decade-long mission to build his campaign treasury, routinely raising far more than he spent. In four reelection bids from 1984 through 1990, he

    • never faced Republican primary opposition,
    • never received less than 64 percent of the general election vote, and
    • never spent more than $186,183.

    During that time, he increased his campaign cash reserves to $1,669,915, making it quite unlikely that he will ever draw serious opposition.

    The 1990s

    The strategy has worked.

    By 1992, Dreier's massive campaign treasury was virtually self-sustaining. He spent $290,133 to defeat Democrat Al Wachtel.

    Just the interest on his cash reserves amounted to $251,392 during that election cycle. (Wachtel, by the way, spent a total of $24,012.) In addition to the interest, Dreier raised $260,755 from individual donors and $131,350 from political action committees (PACs).

    By the end of the election cycle, Dreier had $2,026,109 in cash in the bank.

    1994 - Not much of a campaign

    With investment income totaling $217,859, Dreier's campaign receipts during the 1994 election cycle exceeded his spending by $281,900.

    Given that running start, Dreier invested little time or money in his fund-raising operation. He held no events in Washington, D.C., but still managed to raise $140,995 from PACs. He also raked in $182,836 from individual donors, most of it coming from his annual $250-a-plate breakfast at the Industry Hills Sheraton Resort in Industry, California.

    Overhead expenses for the 1994 reelection effort amounted to $95,553, or 34 percent of Dreier's spending, but he had no real campaign infrastructure.

    • He had no campaign office or paid staff (as was true in 1990 and 1992).
    • He spent nothing on computers or other office equipment.
    • Campaign telephone bills for the two-year election cycle amounted to only $1,005.

    The biggest item in the overhead category for his campaign was $75,554 in taxes Dreier paid on his interest income. That amounted to 27 percent of all the money his campaign spent in 1994.

    In his thoroughly safe district, Dreier committed only 20 percent of his 1994 budget to direct appeals for votes. He spent nothing on television or radio advertising and only $42,077 on persuasion mailers and brochures that portrayed him as a reformer and trumpeted his status as a National Taxpayer's Union "hero." Slate mailers added $1,550. Dreier spent $5,316 on yard signs.

    Supremely confident of victory, he invested $4,421 in a pre-election "Dessert Victory Party." "It's a thank-you party to our volunteers and a rally," noted Smith, his staff director. "After the polls close, a victory party doesn't do you much good."

    And this time

    So far, Dreier's 1996 reelection effort has been another money machine.

    Interest income on his cash hoard amounted to $153,058 – or more than twice as much as he spent in 1995 to keep his off-year, permanent campaign operation running smoothly. And of course, he did receive $93,566 in individual contributions while PAC donations amounted to $84,000. With receipts of $331,399 during 1995, Dreier finished 1995 with a measly $2,534,982 in cash, in the bank.  That was good for second in total cash on hand – behind Rep. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

    This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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