The so-called "New Right" fund raising organizations are collecting millions of dollars which they boast will propel conservative candidates to victory this November. But they actually have been passing along to candidates only about 7 per cent of the money they raise.
Despite some expansive claims that they are on the verge of overtaking moderate Republicans in funneling money to candidates, the self-styled neo-conservatives are raising more than they ever have, but the candidates are enjoying it less, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports.
Just slightly over $270,000 of the nearly $3.7 million raised last year by major New Right political action committees actually went to conservative candidates, according to the FEC yearend reports.
In 1976 - a presidential election year - the same groups raised $10.7 million, and gave less than $1 million to candidates of their ideological persuasion.
By way of comparison, the National Republican Congressional Committee in 1976 raised $8.5 million, of which it spent about $6.2 million, leaving the balance as a surplus.
Of the $6.2 million it spent, the committee gave nearly a third - or about $2 million - directly to candidates, and spent another $2.6 million in indirect "nonallocable" indirect support services to candidates and in general party building activity.
The conservative fund-raising groups, while not alone in compiling a relatively wide gap between money collected and funds given out to candidates, fall below other such groups.
For example, corporate political action committee (PACs) last year gave 16 percent of the $3.5 million they raised to candidates of their choice; labor organization PACs funneled 13.7 percent of the $7.2 million raised directly to candidates, and trade assocation PACs gave more than 10 percent of the $8 million raised to candidates, according to a preliminary analysis by the FEC.
Overall, 1,360 PACs of all ideological leanings last year spent a total of $14.8 million, of which $2.7 million was in direct contributions to federal candidates.
The major labor PACs spent $14.2 million in the 1976 election year, of which $8.2 million went to contributions or direct expenditures on behalf of candidates, reflecting the larger number of candidates that year.
According to the FEC reports, the bulk of the money raised by the conservative PACs goes to the overhead of fundraising, followed by general operating expenses, indirect aid to candidates and the cost of numerous proselytizing activities on behalf of conservatism and for congressional lobbying.
And in spite of any public notion that money donated to them goes automatically to the campaign war chests of conservative candidates, the leaders of the PACs say that is not the way it is supposed to be.
"We have lots of other functions - political functions. We are not just a conduit committee, we are a political movement, and that is what we are spending our money for," said Paul M. Weyrich, director of the Committee for the Survival of the Free Congress.
The committee last year raised $847,497, and gave $24,334 to 33 candidates, according to the FEC. In 1976 it collected $1.6 million and gave $264,729 directly to candidates.
The National Conservative Political Action Committee, headed by John Dolan, collected $1.3 million last year, and gave $20,316 to 10 candidates. The year before, it gave candidates $386,497 out of $2,562,921 collected.
"It was meant to be this way. We didn't raise it for candidates, we planned most of it to go to research, lobbying, surveys and other activities to build the conservative base," Dolan said.
He added, "Most of the conservative PACs spent their money in 1977 trying to stay in business . . . fighting Carter administration policies that are anathema to the conservative movement."
Bruce Eberle, who raises money for the Fund for a Conservative Majority, which collected $317,408 last year and gave $22,400 to candidates, according to its report, attributed much of the difference to the old axiom that it costs money to raise money.
"Fundraising was very expensive in 1977, because it was not a good year for giving, being a nonelection year, "Eberle said. He said his fundraising firm, Bruce Eberle Associates, has 18 other clients, and that they are all engaged in activities other than funneling contributions to candidates, such as student scholarships, speaking tours and issue-oriented campaigns.
Organization Republicans who consider themselves in the mainstream of their party's political thinking long have bristled at press reports at the "New Right" fundraising phenoenon, and particularly that of the directmail magnate, Richard A. Viguerie, who heads a Falls Church firm bearing his name.
"How can these groups raise all this money, and distribute only such a small amount to candidates - and still have debts at the end of the year?" asked Wyatt Stewart Ill, director of finance and administration of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The answer, Stewart suggested, is that many of the conservative PACs rely exclusively on Viguerie's direct mail services, and that Viguerie's lists of prospective donors is getting stale.
The contributors have been tapped so often and so much that they are beginning to give less, and as a result there is less dollar return per letter than there used to be, said Stewart, who, before joining the NRCC, worked for Viguerie. Compounding the problem is the need for "prospecting" for new contributors, a costly venture anytime, he said.
The FEC expenditure reports for most of the New Right PACs show a pattern of dealing with the same web of interlocking direct-mail fund-raising firms controlled by Viguerie, including the Richard A. Viguerie Co. American Mailing Lists Co. and Diversified Mail Marketing Co., all in Falls Church. For some PACs, billings from the Viguerie companies dominate total operating expenses.
Viguerie will not discuss the profits of his companies, but he said he mailed about 75 million letters last year, about 50 million of them political. He said his firm raised about $25 million during the year for political and other causes.
Stewart claimed that as the average net yield on contributions to the conservative PACs has steadily declined, the return on the regular Republican campaign solicitation has increased because the overhead is less.
"They (the neo-conservatives) said they would close down the Republican Party by drying up the contributions. Well, when I came here (21/2 years ago) we had 26,000 contributors. Now we have nearly 400,000," Stewart said.
He said the NRCC isbudgeting about $8 million in receipts this yeara, of which $3 million will go directly to candidates, and another $3 millioin will go to indirect support services, such as candidate seminars, film and media services and other party-building programs.
For his part, Viguerie contended that the conservative PACs' money is well-spent, because besides soliciting money through the mail they are communicating messages.
"It looks like direct mail costs a lot, but you've got to remember that this is how conservatives communicate with each other.
"I think you will find that a large number of conservative PACs have come to realize that giving money to a candidate is not necessarily the best way to support a candidate," Viguerie said.
He noted that every six weeks Weyrich's Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress operates a candidate school for conservatives, and that NCPAC runs similar public deducation programs he says benefit the conservative cause.
"Giving cash to candidates has to be fourth or fifth down the line . . . It doesn't make much sense to give cash to a candidate if he doesn't know what to do with it," Viguerie said.
When asked whether the contributing public realizes that the donations usually do not go to candidates, Viguerie said, "I think so, and I think they will be more so in the next year."
He said he and other conservatives have stressed in public speaking tours that money donated will be used in other ways than as direct grants to candidates, and that in the end it will benefit conservatism more.
"They understand when they write that $10 check it won't necessarily be spent on television for a candidate... There's a better use," Viguerie said.