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Parties Raised $34M in Soft Money

By Karen Gullo
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 1997; 8:50 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) – National political parties raised $34 million in controversial "soft money" donations in the first half of 1997, with Republicans outdoing Democrats by more than 2-to-1, an analysis by Common Cause released Tuesday showed.

GOP committees raised $23 million from corporations, unions and wealthy patrons, compared to $11 million raised by Democrats, said the nonprofit group, which lobbys for tighter controls on campaign money.

The total for both parties is more than double the $13 million they raised in the six months following the last presidential election.

The analysis comes amid calls for a ban on soft money and investigations of Democratic fund-raising practices that focus on soft money contributions.

The Democratic Party has returned $3 million – much of it soft money donations – because of concerns it came from illegal foreign sources.

"Congress must act ... to end the discredited soft money system that is overwhelming elections and poisoning our political system," said Ann McBride, president of Common Cause, which analyzed party committee reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Soft money is exempt from the $25,000 a year legal contribution limit for each donor and is supposed to be spent only on party-building activities, such as get-out-the-vote drives, and not on promoting individual candidates.

But both parties have gotten more creative in how they use soft money and poured millions into advertisements aimed at influencing the presidential election last year.

Special interests, including tobacco companies, lawyers groups, telecommunications firms, unions and wealthy individuals, give huge sums throughout the year. Gifts of $50,000 to $100,000 are not uncommon.

In April, Richard DeVos, a longtime Republican supporter and founder of Amway Corp., together with his wife gave the Republican National Committee $1 million – one of the largest single soft money donations ever made, according to Common Cause.

The amount of soft money raised by the parties increases with each election cycle. Together, the Democrats and Republicans raised $262 million in soft money in the two years leading up to the 1996 election – triple the amount raised just four years earlier.

President Clinton and some lawmakers have called for a ban on soft money. The FEC is studying the matter, but any changes would be unlikely to take effect in time for the 1998 election.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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