John Terrence (Terry) Dolan, 36, cofounder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), an influential organization that supported conservatives and financed campaigns against liberal candidates for national office, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 28 at his home in Washington. He had acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Mr. Dolan was among the first to recognize the significance of court interpretations of post-Watergate election spending regulations. These placed no limit on the amount of money an independent organization or individual could spend on a political campaign provided it had no direct affiliation with the candidate.
He helped found NCPAC in 1975 "to promote the election of conservative candidates to Congress," and he was president of the organization until about six months ago. He reached the peak of his influence in the election of 1980, when NCPAC's efforts helped the Republicans win control of the Senate for the first time in 25 years.
In that election, NCPAC spent more than $ 1.2 million in six states for what it said was the express purpose of unseating Democrats Birch Bayh (Ind.), Frank Church (Idaho), Alan Cranston (Calif.), John Culver (Iowa), Thomas Eagleton (Mo.) and George McGovern (S.D.). Only Cranston and Eagleton won.
NCPAC also contributed almost $ 2 million to Ronald Reagan's successful presidential campaign that year.
But after that election the organization's influence declined. In 1982, NCPAC spent more than $ 650,000 to defeat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) and more than $ 525,000 to defeat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Both won handily. More recently, the organization has been saddled with debts of almost $ 4 million and fund raising has been increasingly difficult.
Widely recognized as one of the New Right's most articulate spokesmen, Mr. Dolan supported prayer in schools and opposed abortion. He was as critical of liberal Republicans as he was of Democrats.
In 1982 he directed the spending of almost $ 190,000 in NCPAC funds in an unsuccessful effort to unseat Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.). He was part of a coalition of New Right leaders who called for the resignation of Secretary of State George P. Shultz in 1985 on the grounds that Shultz was not sufficiently anticommunist.
He opposed most governmental programs and once declared that if he were in charge of the federal budget it would be "99 percent for defense -- keep America strong -- and 1 percent on delivering mail. That's it. Leave us alone."
In contrast to much of the political and religious right, Mr. Dolan extended this principle to the issue of gay rights. In a 1982 interview with The Advocate, a gay magazine, he said he would support a law prohibiting the federal government from discriminating against homosexuals, declaring that "sexual preference is irrelevant to political philosophy."
A native of Norwalk, Conn., Mr. Dolan was a graduate of Georgetown University where he was active in the Young Americans For Freedom and in the Honor America Day counterprotest on July 4, 1970.
He worked for a variety of right-wing organizations before founding NCPAC with Charles Black, a former aide to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
At the time, Mr. Dolan described NCPAC as a "central bureau" to help conservatives, both Republicans and Democrats, and he described Helms as "the prime mover" behind the organization. "He gave us credibility," Mr. Dolan said.
With the help of Richard A. Viguerie, the direct mail fund-raiser, and Helms' list of potential contributors, NCPAC set about raising money, and by the 1980 election was able to spend $ 3.3 million.
It was in that election that Mr. Dolan helped devise and promote negative political advertising, a practice that has since been adopted by other political strategists. Among the more controversial ads in the 1980 campaign were those charging that George McGovern was a "baby killer" because of his prochoice view on abortion and an anti-Frank Church ad showing a picture of an empty missile silo accompanied by a statement that Church "has always opposed a strong national defense."
In the 1984 presidential election, NCPAC sponsored advertisements opposing Democratic nominee Walter F. Mondale, including bumper stickers saying "Honk if Mondale has promised you something."
Mr. Dolan's survivors include his parents, Joseph and Margaret Dolan of Fairfield, Conn.; one brother, Anthony Dolan of Washington, who directs President Reagan's speech writers, and one sister, Maiselle Shortley of McLean.