The Permanent Campaign of Michael Patrick Flanagan
By Dwight L. Morris
While the power of incumbency may not be what it once was, it certainly hasn't hurt the reelection prospects of Illinois Republican freshman Michael Patrick Flanagan, who defeated scandal-plagued 18-term Democratic Rep. Dan Rostenkowski in 1994.
As an unknown challenger taking on one the House's legendary power brokers, Flanagan struggled throughout the 1994 campaign to get even a modicum of respect from members of his own party's establishment. The state's former Republican Governor, James R. Thompson, publicly stated before the election that Rostenkowski had been very good for Illinois, adding that he considered Rostenkowski a personal friend. Despite the fact that Rostenkowski had been indicted on 17 counts of mail and wire fraud, obstruction of justice, embezzlement, and conspiracy, less than two weeks before the election the National Republican Congressional Committee had given Flanagan only $5,000 in coordinated support $50,000 less than they had spent on behalf of three other Illinois candidates. Only when it became clear that Rostenkowski was in serious trouble just nine days before the election did party elders see fit to come through with the other $50,000.
With friends like that, it was little wonder that Flanagan had difficulty raising money from strangers. He spent only $1,947 on fund-raising events, largely limiting himself to "house parties" where donors shelled out $10 or $20. He held no PAC events on the assumption that few would bother to come. He could afford to spend only $25,008 on direct-mail solicitations, including $21,500 for two pieces created and mailed by Karl Rove & Company of Austin, Texas. "The pieces helped us build a list, but they didn't raise much money," press secretary Michael Scanlon noted. "He was running against Rosty so people didn't think there was much reason to give him money."
Fortunately for Flanagan, Rostenkowski took his reelection for granted after winning an expensive, bitter primary contest with four fellow Democrats. In a west-side Chicago district where the city's once omnipresent Democratic machine still has plenty of clout, Rostenkowski's campaign office phone was manned by an answering machine for most of the general election campaign. He had no campaign manager, and after paying Axelrod & Associates $349,751 to create and place radio and television commercials prior to the March 15 primary, Rostenkowski spent nothing on such ads for the general election.
With roughly $15,000 from his own treasury and the $50,000 from the NRCC, Flanagan ran radio and television spots that included his own list of the top 10 reasons people should vote for him, including "I don't steal stamps" and "17 indictments." Following his improbable 54%-to-46% victory, most observers predicted that Flanagan would be a one-term wonder.
To ensure that that would not be the case, Flanagan never stopped running. A permanent campaign requires a permanent center of operations, so Flanagan elected not to close his $800-a-month campaign headquarters following the 1994 victory. Between January 1, 1995 and March 31, 1996, outlays for rent and utilities amounted to $13,918. Salary payments and payroll taxes totaled $35,049, more than $23,000 of which was spent during the off-year. During the first 15-months of his House tenure, his reelection campaign committee racked up phone bills totaling $4,896. The campaign's accountants collected $10,150 for their efforts. Through March 31, Flanagan's basic campaign overhead expenses, which also included travel, office equipment and supplies, totaled $70,062 $17,417 more than he spent on such items during the entire 1994 campaign.
Saddled with 1994 campaign debts of $50,792 and needing a steady supply of cash to fuel his permanent campaign, Flanagan also invested heavily in his fund-raising operation during his first 15 months in office. He put together a fund-raising committee that includes CEOs H. Lawrence Fuller of Amoco, Richard Notebaert of Ameritech, and William Farley of Fruit of the Loom Inc., and sank $63,733 into various events, including a $500-a-plate soiree at Chicago's Midland Hotel and two receptions at the Capital Hill Club aimed at tapping the deep pockets of Washington's political action committee (PAC) community. His direct-mail fund-raising expenses through the end of March totaled $31,195. These efforts have paid handsome returns. As of March 31, Flanagan had raised $338,209, more than three times what he raised for the 1994 campaign. Donations from individuals who have given $200 or more totaled $107,606 nearly four times as much as he raised from large donors in all of 1994. PACs, which gave him virtually nothing prior to his upset win, gave him roughly $18,000 immediately after his victory and another $163,551 since January 1, 1995. As Susan Bryant of Research/Strategy/Management of Lanham, Md., Flanagan's general campaign strategist, put it, "we're doing much better this time, but then nothing could be worse than 1994."
Flanagan will need every penny he can lay his hands on. Backed by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Democratic state representative Rod Blagojevich has built a formidable field operation captained by his father-in-law, Chicago Alderman and west-side ward boss Richard Mell. With the help of Mell and others, Blagojevich had raised $688,876 through the end of March, which fueled a $890,785 spending spree that carried him to victory in the Democratic primary. Despite entering the general election contest with vendor debts of $168,585, it's fairly clear that money will not be one of Blogojevich's problems.
This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.
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