The passing from the national scene of the legendary "presidential king-makers"--those shrewd party leaders and canny political contributors whose timely support could transform an ignored dark horse into a White House contender--has been widely documented. Their demise has been credited to, and blamed upon, changes in the party rules and campaign finance laws. Thirty-six presidential primaries (up from just 14 in 1968) have made the individual voter the new "boss" and made the courting of state chairmen by candidates more beneficial than imperative.
But now comes word that a group of influential Washington lawyer-lobbyists, including Thomas H. Boggs Jr., J. D. Williams and Robert C. McCandless, is warming up to be the Democratic presidential king- makers of 1984. Before this little fantasy goes any further, let it be pointed out that, deprived of large state delegations or large cash gifts to deliver, presidential king-making is a no-growth business.
On Capitol Hill, the legislative effectiveness of these three men is widely recognized. Their understanding of Congress and their access to their corporate clients' PAC funds make them valued political allies. But, as Lyndon Johnson learned in 1960 and Howard Baker learned painfully in 1980, running for president has very little to do with mastery of Congress. The would- be "king-makers" rightly make no claim that their endorsement would translate into majorities in the 1984 Texas and Wisconsin delegations for their candidate. Their value, instead, would be in the matter of campaign money. Because no citizen, under the campaign law, can directly contribute more than $2,700 to a candidate, the king-maker's importance would seem to rely upon their ability to deliver corporate PAC funds or client contributions in some volume.
The fund raiser has become a very important person in contemporary presidential campaigns. But even the acknowledged wizard, Richard Viguerie, was not much help in 1980 to his chosen Republican candidates, Phil Crane and John Connally. And corporate PACs are notoriously cautious in making their contributions. They are the political equivalent of mutual funds, generally prefering to distribute $20 million in 1980 to incumbents rather than challengers and choosing the safe seat over the toss-up race. Presidential campaigns are high-risk and unpredictable.
In 1980, when all presidential candidates collected, before the party conventions, a total of $131.2 million, only $961,000 of it came from corporate PACs. There's no reason to believe that those corporate PACs that were reluctant to give to friendly Republican candidates in 1980 will be eager to donate publicly to Democrats in 1984, especially while a Republican administration remains in control of the federal government until at least Jan. 20, 1985. Williams, Boggs and McCandless are politically savvy, and if pushed would probably admit that neither they nor anyone else will be a 1984 king-maker. But in the meantime, it's probably good for the law business.