By Dwight Morris
Many Senate and House members decry money's corrupting influence on politics, yet they continue the constant chase for cash and defend their actions by reciting the "I-hate-the-system-but-will-live-within-its-rules-
McCain and Feingold's fund-raising methods, in the context of 27 incumbents elected in 1992 and seeking reelection this year, may not appear very different from those of their colleagues. Between Jan. 1, 1993 and Dec. 31, 1997, these 27 incumbents raised a total of $90,644,385. And far from shunning the money chase, both McCain and Feingold were in the thick of it. Since his initial victory in 1992, Feingold raised $2,558,623 and amassed cash reserves totaling $1,149,497. For his part, McCain raised money at a much slower pace, but still managed to rake in $1,605,921 during the five off-years. He had $814,744 in cash on hand at the end of 1997.
However, even on this most basic level, Feingold and McCain clearly are trying to practice what they preach; both ranked among the middle and lower tiers of fund-raisers. McCain's efforts topped those of only seven full-term incumbents seeking reelection this year. Thirteen incumbents raised more than Feingold over the past five years, including nine who pulled in more than $4 million.
Among the other incumbents, Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) led the money chase, collecting $16,269,152 on his own. Seventeen others followed, raising more than $2 million each during non-election years. Only three incumbent senators raised less than $1 million. D'Amato, an incredibly prolific fund-raiser (see Money Talks, Feb. 19), also had the most cash on hand: $9,185,195. Combined with those held by other incumbents, the total cash reserves amounted to $53,609,350 at the close of 1997.
Heavy Duty Off-Year Efforts
On paper, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) doesn't need a frantic fund-raising operation. He won in 1992 by a 2-to-1 margin, looks to have an easy path to reelection in 1998 and represents a state with few voters and cheap television ad rates. Daschle also loudly proclaimed his support for campaign finance reform during the recent Senate debates. Yet he pulled in $4,602,149 over the past five years. Similarly, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) cruised to victory in 1992, appears safe in 1998 and voted in favor of the McCain-Feingold bill. Still, he felt compelled to raise $4,200,810.
The Methods of Fund Raising
Feingold took in just $309,956 in PAC money, or 12 percent of the $2.6 million he has raised. Only two senators Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) can claim a lower percentage. Boxer took in $771,996 of her $7.3 million total from PACs. Leahy, who does not accept PAC donations, is the only one who can boast a lower PAC contribution total. McCain took in $361,264 from PACs. Only four incumbents seeking reelection this year have taken in less money from political action committees; eight have a lower percentage of PAC donations in their total receipts.
Feingold has raised $2,140,293 from individual donors, and just 43 percent of it $920,234 came from people who could afford to write checks for $200 or more. He received only 321 $1,000 checks. Only Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), whose large donations accounted for 40 percent of her total receipts, could boast a lower proportion. McCain's small donor outreach was not nearly as aggressive, but only seven incumbent senators had a lower proportion of their individual contributions come from big donors those who wrote checks for $200 or more.
D'Amato leads the way for large donations among the other incumbents, as he does with virtually every category of fund-raising. D'Amato raised $11,560,760 from donors willing to ante up at least $200, which represents 89 percent of all the money he has raised from individual contributors. He has raked in 9,041 checks for $1,000, which accounts for 78 percent of all the money he has raised from individuals who have given him at least $200.
D'Amato is far from alone. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has raised $3,646,774 from individual donors, and $3,212,842 of that has come from people who wrote checks of $200 or more. Nearly two-thirds of Specter's larger donations are made up of $1,000 checks. Contributions of $200 or more represent 97 percent of the $1,715,463 total Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.) raised from individual donors. Seventy-one percent of his large donations come from $1,000 checks. In all, 19 of the 27 senators seeking reelection have raised at least 70 percent of their individual contributions from those willing to write checks for at least $200. Twelve senators topped the 80-percent mark for this category, including six for whom large donations made up 90 percent of their contributions from individuals.
While cynics are loathe to find much good in politics these days, it is refreshing to see two politicians who put their money where their mouths are.
© Copyright 1998 Campaign Study Group