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    Weeds In The Garden State

    By Dwight L. Morris
    October 8, 1996

    The state of New Jersey, with its large suburban swing vote, usually gets a significant amount of media attention every four years. But this time, the Garden State has assumed an added national importance because of the contest to replace retiring Sen. Bill Bradley. The Democrats are looking to keep the seat in their column as they try to gain control of the Senate. Not surprisingly, the GOP is trying to foil their efforts. That's where the predictable politics of the race ends. The campaign has become a testament to power of fund-raising and lowball tactics, earning it the title of one of the meanest races in the country.

    Armed with $1.3 million in excess funds from his House campaign treasury, New Jersey Democratic Rep. Robert Torricelli was more than ready when Bradley announced in August, 1995, that he would not seek re-election in 1996. But that sum was just the beginning: While he had raised a very modest $42,110 during the first six months of 1995, between July 1 and December 31 he raked in another $1.1 million, including $21,629 raised by his House campaign committee prior to Bradley's announcement. Averaging more than $9,000 a day, this fund-raising push enabled him to increase his cash reserves to $2,351,344 on December 31, 1995.

    Spared a costly fight for the Democratic nomination, Torricelli upped the ante still further, raising more than $3.8 million during the first six months of this year – an average of $20,867 a day. On June 30, his cash reserves stood at $5,956,938.

    Big Fish
    Torricelli did not accomplish this Herculean feat by reaching out to small donors. His efforts were devoted almost entirely to landing the big fish.

    Between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 1996, he raised $4,300,353 from individual donors, and $3,895,179 of that total – a staggering 91 percent – came from supporters who contributed $200 or more. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he while he collected 5,380 checks of $200 or more, 2,878 of those checks were made out for $1,000. He received just $405,174 from individuals who gave less than $200. If we include the $629,687 he received from political action committees (PACs), his small-donor base accounted for only 8 percent of his total contributions. (The average is 18 percent.)

    New Jersey residents accounted for roughly 56 percent of Torricelli's large individual donations, while New Yorkers accounted for another 14 percent. However, unless one is willing to spend a minimum of several hundred hours researching their identities, there is little else one can say with certainty about his biggest donors.

    Torricelli's campaign reports indicate he received 427 checks of $200 or more on March 30, 1996 – by far his biggest payday through June. For 197 of those 427 checks, the campaign failed to report the occupation or employer of the donor, as required by law. Twenty $1,000 checks arrived that day from Puerto Rico, but despite its "best efforts," the campaign could not determine the occupation of any of the twenty donors. That day, ten $1,000 checks arrived from supporters in South Carolina, but again, the campaign did not report an occupation for any of these donors. Twelve Pennsylvania supporters were moved to donate $1,000 on March 30, but try as it might, the campaign could only come up with an occupation for one of the donors. Out of thirty-six $1,000 checks arriving from New York that day, only twelve were properly identified to the FEC. In all, nearly $1 million of Torricelli's large donations lack the employment information required by law.

    Among the large donors he identified, attorneys and lobbyists were by far his biggest fans, pumping more than $550,000 into his coffers as of June 30. Individual donors employed by the financial services sector had contributed more than $275,000. Large donations from individuals employed in the health care industry amounted to more than $215,000, while realtors and developers added more than $250,000.

    Whoever his donors are, by targeting well-healed individuals and PACs rather than small donors, Torricelli's fund-raising operation proved extremely cost efficient, returning nearly $17 for each $1 invested. Between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 1996, he sank nearly $170,000 into fund-raising events, including payments totaling $54,711 to his ex-wife, professional fund-raiser, Susan Torricelli. A company called A.B. Data of Milwaukee received payments totaling $122,677 for producing and processing his direct-mail solicitations. Torricelli's fund-raising investment accounted for 35 percent of his spending during this eighteen-month period.

    Lower Money Mileage
    So far, Torricelli's Republican opponent, Rep. Dick Zimmer, has proven to be a considerably less proficient fund-raiser. Starting 1995 with campaign cash reserves of $488,555 and a desire to run against Bradley in 1996, Zimmer started his fund-raising push immediately. During the first six months of 1995, Zimmer raised nearly $650,000, and had nearly $1.2 million in the bank by the time Bradley bowed out of the race. By year's end, that figure had climbed to nearly $1.8 million.

    However, unlike Torricelli, Zimmer could not pick up the pace. During the first six months of 1996, he raised $2.1 million – slightly more than half as much as Torricelli.

    Compounding Zimmer's money problems was the fact that he faced opposition from within his own party. While Torricelli needed to pay his media advisors just $36,000 through the first six months of 1996 – all of it devoted to planning his general election campaign – Zimmer sank $365,424 into his pre-primary advertising effort. While Torricelli had no need to invest in an early round of persuasion mail, Zimmer was forced to pump more than $130,000 into the printing and distribution of his campaign literature. Arthur J. Finkelstein's general strategic advice and polling services cost Zimmer another $76,226 during this period.

    In all, while Torricelli spent slightly less than $650,000 during the first six months of this year, Zimmer was forced to pay out nearly $1.2 million.

    Zimmer was also burdened by a relatively inefficient raising operation. Between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 1996, he spent roughly $270,000 on various fund-raising events – $100,000 more than Torricelli. He invested $273,541 in fund-raising direct-mail solicitations – $150,864 more than Torricelli. Yet, with only a seven dollar return for each dollar he invested, Zimmer raised $1.1 million less than Torricelli.

    Given his increased outlays for direct-mail, one might be tempted to chalk up Zimmer's smaller return on investment to an increased dependence on small donors. However, while they represent 15 percent of his take from individual contributors, his small donations amounted to only $480,260. Individual donations of $200 totaled $2,706,715; PACs added $649,031.

    As a result of both his poorer fund-raising performance (he does, however, do a much better job of identifying who he takes money from) and the increased outlays associated with a contested primary, Zimmer's cash-on-hand stood at $2,718,557 on June 30 – $3,238,381 less than Torricelli's bank balance.

    Avalanche of Negative Ads
    Since there are no television network affiliates located in New Jersey, candidates are forced to buy time on both New York and Philadelphia stations to saturate the state. With substantially more money to invest in this expensive and incredibly inefficient exercise (a majority of the people who see these spots and live in New York, southern Connecticut and eastern Pennsylvania can't vote for either candidate), Torricelli hit the airwaves immediately after Labor Day with television commercials touting his support for welfare reform and work requirements for prison inmates. Not to be outdone, Zimmer countered shortly thereafter with an endorsement spot featuring popular Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman. That positive beginning quickly gave way to an avalanche of negative ads.

    One of Zimmer's ads, funded in part by soft money supplied by the Republican National Committee and the state Republican party, lambasted the "Liberal Torricelli," accusing him of voting to raise income taxes, as well as "taxes on homes, cars, medicine, jobs, child care, telephones, seniors, families, small businesses, gasoline," and capital gains. After "morphing" Torricelli's face into that of Jim Florio – the unpopular New Jersey governor whose income tax increases cost him his job in 1993 – the ad concludes by branding Torricelli "liberal to a T."

    Torricelli has responded with ads denouncing Zimmer's commercials as lies. One of his own attack spots claims, among other things, that Zimmer has "taken more money from polluters than anyone else in the state." Not stopping there, the ad also accuses Zimmer of voting to allow the dumping of toxic materials off New Jersey's shore, voting against federal legislation mandating coverage of mammograms to detect breast cancer, voting to repeal nursing home safety standards, voting to repeal the Brady Bill "so handguns could be sold to criminals with no waiting period," and voting to cut Medicare twenty-five times.

    With plenty of money in their campaign treasuries, a steady stream of money flowing from the national and state party organizations, and another month to go before election day, both Torricelli and Zimmer will have plenty of opportunity to slug it out on the airwaves. Voters must be thrilled at the prospect.

    This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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