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    Money Talks
    Walking the Walk on Campaign Finance

    By Dwight Morris
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, March 20, 1998

    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-
    as-long-as-I-must" mantra. Two lawmakers, however, prove that not everyone in Washington just talks the talk of reform. Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are walking the walk – not only leading the fight to reform federal campaign funding, but also taking the very un-Washington high road: translating their rhetoric into action.

    Incumbent Senate Fund Raising by:

    Individual Donations of $200 or More
    Large Out-of-State Donations
    $1,000 Donations

    Key Races: The Senate

    A Staggering Total for Incumbents
    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
    Members of Congress who support campaign finance reform often decry the high cost of running campaigns, and the necessity of off-year fund raising in the current system. Yet some continue collecting the cash in non-election years, even when their seats seem safe or their races not likely to be quite as expensive.

    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
    The deeper one looks into the numbers, the clearer the differences in fund-raising styles appear. Some incumbents regularly court PACs. Others find cultivating large individual contributions more lucrative. Still others take their act on the road, collecting money from donors nationwide. Under federal law, individuals can give up to $1,000 to a candidate for the primary and another $1,000 for the general election. The federal PAC limit for each race is $5,000.

    PACs
    Reformers have tried unsuccessfully for years to purge political action committees from the system. Yet despite the mythology surrounding PACs, their influence is highly overrated – they make up only 24 percent of the money raised by the 27 full-term incumbents seeking reelection this year. Neither Feingold nor McCain is substantially dependent upon PAC money, although both continue to accept some PAC contributions.

    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.

    Large Donations
    "Fat Cat" donors are another source of concern to reformers, and overall, checks of $200 or more account for 77 percent of the money raised from individuals by the 27 full-term senators. A hefty 68 percent of those "large donations" have been $1,000 checks.

    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.

    Out-of-State Money
    Although the idea has never been taken seriously, some would like to see out-of-state fund raising restricted. Over the past five years, these 27 incumbent senators seeking reelection this year have collectively raised $47,472,312 from individuals who wrote checks for $200 or more. Forty-three percent of that money – $20,597,705 – came from individuals they do not represent in Congress. Both McCain and Feingold were below that average.

    Spending
    McCain and Feingold also exhibit their reformist natures on the spending side of the campaign finance equation. Unlike D'Amato and Dodd, they do not spend large sums of campaign money to lease and maintain campaign cars. Unlike many Senate and House members, they do not make a habit of letting their campaigns pick up the tab for expensive meals that have nothing to do with their fund-raising efforts. Unlike most of his Senate colleagues seeking reelection, McCain had not retained a media consultant or pollster by the end of 1997. While D'Amato had already spent more than $2 million on television advertising by the end of last year, Feingold had paid his media consultant only $31,000.

    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

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