Scene: Attorney Thomas G. (The Cork) Corcoran's Rock Creek Park garden on an autumn night in 1977. Despite the chill air, 200 stalwarts fork out $250 each to down whiskey and shrimp remoulade at the invitation of cohosts Sen. Russell Long (D-La.) and House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.).
The guest of honor is Rep. Gillis Long, the Louisiana Democrat who may go after the State House in 1979 if the polls look promising. Meanwhile, there is the 1978 congressional election and, says attorney Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., "I don't mind shelling out $250 for a party for Gillis Long because with this $250 you're buying into two races - $125 for Congress and $125 for Governor."
Scene: A hot, crowded room at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel on a spring night in 1977 where guests have plunked down $100 a head. Four southern Democrats are among the sponsors of a reception honoring South Carolina Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond, who hopes to raise $25,000 for his 1978 reelection campaign.
"I wouldn't do it in the heat of the campaign," says Sen. James B. Allen (D-Ala.) of his cohosting efforts with fellow Democrats Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia, James O. Eastland of Mississippi and John L. McClellan of Arkansas. "But Strom wanted help and I felt obligated on account of our friendship and the way we have cooperated with each other, to accede to his request."
Laments Kentucky's Wendell Ford, chairman of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, upon hearing the news: "It's hard enough in a mid-term election to hold our strength in Congress without making it easier for the Republicans to have a talking point."
Scene: A spring night in 1976 on the driveway of the old Congressional Hotel on Capitol Hill. A public television film crew is training its cameras on guests arriving at a $100-a-ticket fundraiser for Rep. Fernand St. Germain (D-R.I.). Many are lobbyists from banking and thrift industries. Some rush past reporters, others talk willingly.
St. Germain is a member of the House Committee on Banking, Currency and Housing and chairman of its subcommittee on financial institutions supervision, regulation and insurance. He is trying to raise $12,000 to $15,000 for his 1976 campaign.
St. Germain says his testimonial is unrelated to his efforts to steer through his subcommittee the Financial Reform Act of 1976 (which later died in committee). He says the party's timing is "coincidental." He bars a reporter from mingling with his guests because, he whispers, "Some of these men may be here without their wives."
"Freddy" doesn't have to twist arms, says one of St. Germain's guest. "But I guess it could be slowed as 'last chance to get your bets down, gents.'"
The casts and locations change but otherwise those scenes could be re-runs played nightly around town in the world of political fundraisers. It's a way of life, say the actors who are the givers as well as the getters.
The night of Gillis Long's party, for instance, four other members of Congress were starring at fundraisers of their own. The total take was thousands of dollars, according to reports filed later with the Federal Election Commission. Some of the money came from individual contributors but no small part came from special-interest groups.
"The invitees to Washington fundraisers are invariably Washington lobbyists and interest groups they represent," says Fred Wertheimer, vice president of Common Cause, which has released an analysis of Washington fundraisers.
In the nine-month period between January and September 1977, at least 63 members of Congress from 26 [WORD ILLEGIBLE] sought campaign funds through local fundraisers, according to the citizens' lobby group.
"The overriding point here is that most of the money raised does not go to challengers but to incumbents as an investment," says Wertheimer.
In 1976, special-interest groups gave $13.5 million to incumbents seeking reelection to the House and Senate compared to $4.1 million to their challengers.
The Common Cause report was released on the eve of House Majority Leader Jim Wright's $1,000-a-plate fundraiser last week, an event Wertheimer hails as "a lobbyist's delight" and "the superbowl" of Washington fundraisers by members of Congress.
Wright's office, however, countered that the event was "an important and necessary function" of the majority leader who personally does not benefit from the money raised but instead will dispense it to House Democrats seeking reelection this fall.
Stung by questions which Common Cause and the media raised about the ethics of the occasion, Wright told one reporter that buying a ticket did not buy anybody "one cotton-pickin' thing."
The night of the party of the Madison hotel, he took pains to protect his quests' identities decreeing that no photographs would be allowed if any of them objected. Nametags omitted business affiliations.
What a degree of influence a contributor buys when he subscribes to a candidate's fundraiser is still the question without an answer, though the idea is challenged by many of the players.
"Nobody really expects to buy a member of Congress for $25 to $50," says Rep. Abner J. Mikva (D-Ill.). "I don't know what he expects if he spends more."
Another Illinois Democrat, Rep. Saul Simon, says "the key is access . . . those who contribute, beyond any question, have an inordinate access to policymakers."
Vic Kamber, director of the AFL-CIO task force on labor law reform, agrees. "The more exposed to someone, the more in touch, the more likely when the issue comes up of concern to an institutional group he (the candidate) will be more responsive be [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
California's Rep. James Corman, chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, doubts that a contribution to a fundraiser buys anything because "every citizen has access to his congressman . . . nobody on my staff ever checks to see if a caller contributed to my campaign."
"All a contribution is going to do is let you walk in the door," says Esther Coopersmith, probably Washington's leading volunteer fundraiser for Democratic candidates through the years. "If you are contributor, all you probably will get is a hello."
Even so, Coopersmith admits that she was unsuccessful when trying to help sell tickets to the Wright fundraiser. Some reluctance may have been a desire to steer clear of taking sides in any possible fight between Wright and California's Phillip Burton for the majority leader spot next year.
"Others said that if they gave $1,000, they wanted to give it to the individual congressman" rather than have it distributed by Wright, according to Coopersmith.
"You don't get as much bang for the buck that way," she says.
If campaing spending laws in recent years have succeeded in limiting individual contributions to national candidates, they also have brought out from under the table and legitimized political action committees (PACs) so that they may be the future sugar daddies of the fundraising industry.
In 1974, for instance, there were 608 corporate, union, trade association or professional membership group PACs registered with the FEC. By Sept. 30, 1977, that number had increased to 1,360.
While Congress set limits on how much individuals $1,000 and PACs ($5,000) could give to a candidate per election each year, nowhere did it set limits on how much it own members could receive.
The scramble by people raising money for their candidate took them to more sources "to broaden your base, to get more people involved," says Coopersmith, who estimates fatten Democratic coffers by nearly $6 million.
Where Coopersmith and others used to tap one contributor for $10,000, now they must find 10 contributors to give $1,000 each. It is a truism of fundraising, say those who know, that it is far easier to get 10 contributions of $5,000 than it is to get 1,000 for $50.
In the case of PACs, theorically at least, a candidate may collect from as his campaign. Critics see several dangers, one of them greed, the other a dependence that ultimately distorts the decision-making process as surely as individual donations did in the hey-days of fat Cats.
Not all special-interest groups are willing participants, however, Gulf Oil Corp., whose political gifts practices caused an international scandal a few years ago, steers clear of fundraisers and requests for funds as official corporate policy.
"We avoid them like the plaque," says Robert Goralski, director of Gulf's public elations.
Common Cause's Wertheimer calls PAC's "a growth industry" and thinks that even members of Congress who oppose the present system have to they see no other effective way to raise sufficient money.
People brought their own trains and for the sake of history, there was a reenactment of driving of the Golden Spike, which linked the East and West by rail 100 years ago in Utah.
That fundraiser for Sen. Frank Moss, says Coopersmith, was one of her more memorable. She booked it into Union Station, no less, and even today people still talk about the antique trains on track right next to the brand new Metroliner.
But few fundraisers are Hollywood productions. The cocktail buffet is usually in a room deliberately too small for the crowd it contains because touching the flesh is no idle cliche in the language of politicans.
"They're miserable if they hape to walk four steps to talk to somebody," says Lesley Lowe Israel, one veteran fundraising planner.
So nobody waks veryfar for talk or drink or food, often thematic fare focusing on peanuts or lobster or chili or bagels to emphasize the candidate's grass roots sympathies.
They may listen spellbound (or otherwise) to a gallued and fiddle-plunking Robert Byrd, majority leader of the Senate, or to that other Senate box-office draw, Massachusetts' Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
"You want celebrities who put their arms around the guest of honor and say, 'We need him back here in the Congress,'" says israel. 'Hubert' Humphrey was a star at that."
Another factor contributing to the success of a fundraiser is the grouping of like-minded congressmen.
"I might go to one for Congressman X at the Democratic Club and find 10 other congressmen there to chat informally with about issues that affect me or provide them facts on something that is coming up," says Robert Bonitati, director or legislation for the Air Line Pilots Association.
They were the same night, in the same part of town and attracted about the same number of supporters paying about the same amount of money. There is similarity ended however. In the Washington world of begging for bucks, the fundraiser for out-of-towner Jimmy Carter could not have differed more from the one for Idaho Democrat Sen. Frank Church that March night two years ago.
Carter's, at the rented Georgetown home of the then-unknown north Carolina transplants, Reynolds Tobacco Co. heir Smith and Vicky Bagley, drew heavily on local and suburban politicos. Celebrities theyf were not, because as one student of campaigns says, "The Washington money tree avoids primary election competition if there is not an incumbent involved.
Church's party, at the Georgetown home of Rhode Island's Sen. Clairborne Pell, pulled in the Establishment, visible evidence this night, at least, that the Senate's old-boy network was rally to its own.
"A lot of people told us they felt a prior obligation to Frank although they might not support his candidacy," says Dr. Peter Bourne, former Carter campaign aide who thinks some who showed up at the Bagleys' that night may have been there to see Ted Kennedy's old house as much as to see Jimmy Carter.
"We sort of let everybody know it was Kennedy's."
Three months later, Bourne arranged a somewhat more exclusive fundraiser, with 30 people paying $1,000 apiece, at the Watergate apartment of a former Tennessee congressman. Bourne always fundraiser but he knew that in the beginning a dollar raised was worth $10. So Carter came and they filled the apartment easily and could have had twice the number.
"By then," says Bourne, "it was pretty clear."