By Dwight Morris
Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato may not be running scared, but as he nears the end of his third term he is most definitely running hard. Rarely a candidate with very positive poll numbers or large margins of victory, D'Amato's fund-raising prowess is nonetheless legendary. And judging from his campaign finance records for the past five years, the reason is clear: He never stops running. After his razor-thin 1992 victory over state Attorney General Robert Abrams (he won just 80,794 votes out of the 6,356,724 cast), the junior senator from New York has stayed in fund-raising battle mode.
How D'Amato's Fund Raising Stacks Up
In fact, D'Amato leads the fund-raising pack in every category, from type of contributor to expenditures and cash on hand. Individual donors have handed D'Amato $13,015,622 only $18,655 less than the combined total that Boxer, Specter, and Georgia Republican Paul Coverdell raised from individuals. The $2,128,104 D'Amato has collected from political action committees over the past five years is well above the committee money collected by any other incumbent seeking reelection this year $579,900 more, in fact. In all, D'Amato's 1998 campaign war chest boasts $5,029,779 more than he raised during the entire six-year election cycle leading up to his 1992 victory.
Spending Money to Raise Money and Advertise
With this prodigious off-year advertising push, D'Amato has already spent more than a host of colleagues spent on ads during their successful 1996 reelection bids, including Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), and Max Baucus (D-Mont.). He has also handily outdistanced the advertising expenditures made by both former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) and the man who defeated him in 1996, Democrat Tim Johnson.
Through the end of 1997, D'Amato had paid Russo Marsh & Associates of Sacramento, Calif., $137,572 for creating commercials that, among other things, attacked then-potential Democratic rival Ferraro as a hopeless liberal who had voted for higher taxes throughout her political career. D'Amato paid Multi Media Services Corp. of Alexandria, Va., $2,345,387 for placing the spots, and paid $22,390 for additional miscellaneous production costs.
D'Amato's political consultant collected a hefty check as well. His campaign finance reports show D'Amato paid Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates of Irvington, N.Y., $486,323 for strategic advice and polls that helped structure the advertising campaign and tested his standing with voters.
Raising more than $16 million requires substantial effort, and D'Amato has spent more than $1.7 million to do it. His fund-raising receptions around the country during the past several years have cost nearly $1 million, and he focused further resources on direct-mail solicitation efforts, paying $279,243 to SCM Associates of Boston, Mass.
While these overhead costs and others not itemized are clearly related to D'Amato's reelection effort, some expenses appear a bit more dubious. For example, D'Amato has been riding in style thanks to his campaign accounts. During the past five years, D'Amato has tapped his campaign treasury for $137,403 to lease and operate various automobiles, including $93,061 in lease payments and $44,342 on gas and repairs. Judging from a $9,612 repair bill from Dave Pyle's Lincoln-Mercury in Annandale, Va., one of these cars serves as his personal car here in Washington.
These cars may seem more a personal expense than a campaign expense, but D'Amato has long covered these costs with campaign money. For six years before his 1992 reelection, D'Amato spent $156,729 from his campaign treasury to cover the cost of leasing and maintaining cars. By the end of that election he spent $647 in campaign funds each month to lease a Lincoln Town Car, which stayed in New York. The campaign also covered the $927 monthly lease on a 1990 Lincoln Town Car, which D'Amato used in Washington. Over that six-year election cycle, D'Amato spent $20,315 to repair his campaign cars, including $10,022 to Dave Pyle's. Insurance, registration and licensing fees amounted to $28,217, and gas cost another $31,495.
These numbers may not sound significant, unless compared to the 14 other Senate incumbents leased or purchased cars during the 1992 election cycle. Combined, they spent $586,888. D'Amato's investment in his cars amounted to 27 percent of that overall total.
The campaign treasury also fed D'Amato and his staff well. Over the past five years, they spent $114,013 of his campaign treasury on meals that had no apparent connection to his fund-raising effort, including $72,066 at the Senate restaurant and $9,643 at Gandel's Gourmet, a Capitol Hill delicatessen. Fourteen meals at Hunan Dynasty on Capitol Hill cost the campaign $3,939, and ten meals at Armand's Chicago Pizza on Capitol Hill cost $2,013. Four meals at Bice, a swank restaurant near the Capitol, cost $1,903.
The Long Run
But having three well-funded Democratic opponents served D'Amato well in 1992, when Abrams spent much of his $6.4 million campaign treasury on a devastatingly acrid primary contest with Ferraro, former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, and black activist Al Sharpton. When a bruised victor emerges from what no doubt will be another divisive Democratic primary this September, the real winner may prove to be D'Amato.
© Copyright 1998 Campaign Study Group