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    Money Talks
    New York's Junior Senator Running For His Political Life

    By Dwight Morris
    Special to
    Thursday, Feb. 19, 1998

    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.

    Incumbent Senate Fund Raising Ranked by:

    Total Receipts
    Individual Contributions
    Other Committee Receipts
    Current Cash on Hand

    Key Races: New York Senate

    D'Amato's campaign finances remain extraordinary – and necessary – for several reasons. First, he's entering the 1998 election as one of the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents. Thus a bulging campaign war chest is a highly effective weapon against Republican primary challengers and possible Democratic contenders alike. Since New York is often home to tough Democratic primary battles that leave even the winners hobbled and drained of cash, a sizable campaign bank account, even if it funds very expensive ads early on, gives D'Amato strength in the general election. In addition, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 1995-96, D'Amato was able to raise money from a national platform.

    How D'Amato's Fund Raising Stacks Up
    D'Amato's ability to rake in the cash also sets him apart from his Senate colleagues. Between Jan. 1, 1993 and Dec. 31, 1997, he far surpassed the other Senate incumbents seeking reelection this year, raising $16,269,152. That total dwarfs those of the next two most active incumbent fund-raisers – $8,903,220 more than California Democrat Barbara Boxer and an astounding $11,403,336 more than Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter. D'Amato's constant chase for cash even tops the combined receipts of the 12 least active fund-raisers by $533,540.

    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
    Thus armed for battle, D'Amato's campaign expenditures have been impressive as well. Running hard against Democratic opponents including Rep. Charles Schumer and Geraldine Ferraro, D'Amato hit the airwaves with ads even before Ferraro declared she would run. He spent $2,505,349 to produce and air television and radio commercials during 1997 – roughly $2.2 million more than he had spent on commercials at this stage of the 1992 campaign.

    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.

    Overhead Costs
    D'Amato's never-ending campaign has spent well over $1.5 million on basic overhead during the past five years, including $557,408 on staff salaries, benefits and payroll taxes. Rent and utilities on a campaign office that never closed after the 1992 election totaled $79,967, and computers, software, and other office equipment cost another $35,808. D'Amato's overnight delivery service bills total $31,943, and he spent $88,323 on the telephone, including a $53,597 cellular phone bill. He also spent $275,615 on off-year campaign travel, and $42,972 on legal bills and accounting.

    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
    Whether or not D'Amato's constituents would mind these unusual expenditures, his Democratic opponents will no doubt raise the issue. Though he had nearly $4 million more in the bank than any other incumbent at the end of 1997, D'Amato held only a $704,833 cash-on-hand advantage over Schumer. Ferraro, though she entered the race only last month, undoubtedly will be able to compete financially. And New York City Public Advocate Mark Green spent nearly $500,000 over the final six months of 1997, with more than $700,000 still in the bank.

    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

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