Money may or may not make the world go around, but it certainly gives politics a spin.
That was illustrated by the jockeying in recent days after the release of the Jan. 31 federal campaign finance reports.
Senatorial candidate Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) raised more money in 1985 than might be gleaned from his campaign form, said a Barnes aide. Maryland state Del. Robert Neall (R-Anne Arundel), trailing in fund raising for a House race, said that at least his money was home-grown, unlike his opponent's money. Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) is even stronger financially than his $140,367 contributions show, asserted an aide, because Parris had $231,643 in cash in the bank.
Conceived as a means to monitor contributions and prevent wealthy special interests from buying federal elections, the campaign financing statements have evolved into a sort of report card or progress report on the health of campaigns. There is normally pride, not apologies, when a candidate is able to bring in big money from developers, labor, utilities, insurance groups and others with a stake in Congress.
Money begets money, explained one member of Congress. He said that contributions can be votes of confidence, and the more money a candidate amasses, the more people believe that the candidate is a winner. So more money piles in, because everyone wants to invest in a winner. It can create a kind of momentum, say fund raisers.
If done early enough, it can scare off potential challengers. Several prominent Democrats said they decided against challenging Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) in 1984 because of his $2 million campaign war chest, a substantial amount then for a Virginia candidate to raise.
A big cash fund is particularly crucial in the Washington metropolitan area, where television and radio advertising is costly and necessary in close campaigns, according to Parris aide Dick Leggitt.
"Races in Washington are expensive, so you have to seek the support of the groups and organizations that support you," said Leggitt. He said a local radio spot can cost more than $1,000, and "one spot doesn't work. You have to run a whole series of them."
Barnes, who is trailing Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) in the polls for the Senate race, acknowledged early in the campaign that money was a key ingredient in his battle. The Montgomery County Democrat had not been active in Maryland politics during his seven years in the House, and he planned to spend more than $1 million in advertising to try to overcome his anonymity in other parts of the state.
Thus cash balances are a key figure to look at when trying to assess the strength of a campaign, said Leggitt.
Parris started 1986 with $231,643 in cash, a sizable amount of money to drum up for a candidate who does not now have a Democratic opponent. But $100,000 of that money was a personal loan that Parris made to his campaign on Dec. 31.
Likewise, Washington Bullets basketball player Tom McMillen, a Democrat who is vying with Neall to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Marjorie S. Holt, has lent $29,683 to his campaign. Thus he started 1986 with $85,838 in cash but with $34,732 in debts and obligations. In contrast, Barnes had a cash balance of $308,137 and no debts.
Jerry Grant, McMillen's campaign director, said members of Congress such as Barnes can use congressional staff and office space until their campaigns get rolling. But challengers such as McMillen must pay rent and salaries from the start, and thus their expenses are higher.
House of Delegates Minority Leader Neall had $66,200 in cash and racked up $20,452 in debts. He owed money to merchants for meeting rooms, food, billboard rental, printing and flight services.
Neall raised $96,731, about half as much as McMillen. But Neall said his contributions came mostly from Maryland, showing that he has local support.
"Is he saying that he isn't going to accept any out-of-district money?" asked Grant. "Tom's job has taken him to 26 different cities. It's easy for him to work with friends and associates he has known for 11 years."
Grant added that he did not expect McMillen's fund-raising lead to last. "He Neall will outspend us and out-raise us," because of support from Holt and national Republican groups.
In 1985, McMillen raised $199,262, more than any other candidate in Maryland for federal office, according to the campaign statements. But the Barnes staff said those balance sheets do not show the full picture.
Barnes started raising money for the Senate race in October. If the money he raised in 1985 for his House seat, before he switched races, is added to that amount, Barnes collected $258,885, said Judith DeSarno, Barnes' administrative assistant.
Mikulski started raising money for the Senate race in November, collecting $51,307. But, like Barnes, she had been raising funds for her House seat earlier in the year, giving her total 1985 contributions of $197,098.
Mikulski, a Baltimore Democrat, originally counted the House funds twice and erroneously reported total receipts of $334,862. But the error was corrected with the Federal Election Commission, according to her staff.
Wendy Sherman, Mikulski's campaign manager, who said she was upset over the news story on the mistake, blamed the FEC, saying the campaign had gotten faulty advice from the commission. "The real story is that we tried to do such full disclosure . . . . I think it was an unfair story, given the fact that our intention was to be as accurate as possible," she said.
Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson raised $31,445 for the Maryland Senate race, the smallest amount of any of the declared Senate candidates. But Hutchinson said that low figure is not a concern to him.
"I think you're looking at the wrong number," said Hutchinson. "That's the least important figure. The important thing is that we've got $240,000 in the bank, which is almost twice as much as Mikulski."
That is because Hutchinson, who cannot run again for county executive, has been contemplating a run for a federal or state office since his reelection in 1982. He said he has raised about $500,000 since then, but about half of that money cannot be used in the Senate race because it was given directly by corporations rather than through political action committees. Such donations are allowed under state law but not federal law.
"It's important what figure you look at," said Hutchinson.