Despite its success as one of the best-funded presidential efforts of either party, the exploratory presidential campaign of Marion G. (Pat) Robertson was so short of cash last fall that its major contractor, a political newcomer, was forced to seek more than $1 million in advances of credit to bankroll the first major national event of the campaign.
Several cash-short presidential campaigns have been forced to borrow money, using federal campaign matching funds, due next year, as collateral. But the Robertson campaign was temporarily kept afloat by credit extensions granted to the major supplier.
The campaign spending report Robertson filed last month shows only that he paid $4.7 million in less than six months to the contractor, Victory Communications International of Arizona. Most of that went for the expense of putting on a Sept. 17, 1986, national telecast where Robertson announced he would run for president if 3 million Americans signed petitions of support.
The Federal Election Commission report doesn't list how Victory spent the money or who advanced the money to Victory. The FEC says that such a campaign operation is permissible as long as FEC auditors have access to how the money was spent.
The Robertson campaign didn't return calls yesterday. Michael K. Clifford, president of Victory, said yesterday that he would open his books to the FEC. "I have absolutely nothing to hide," he said.
Clifford's firm specializes in putting on teleconferences for religious groups. The Robertson campaign was his first political effort.
Victory's first fund-raiser was an Aug. 1, 1986, extravaganza at Nelson Bunker Hunt's ranch outside Dallas, which cost $460,000, and featured hot-air balloons, aerial acrobats and portable air-conditioning units to deal with 100-degree heat.
But the thousands who had been invited from donor lists of Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network didn't contribute as much as expected. Neither did CBN donors who attended an event the next night in the Anaheim Convention Center.
To meet the expenses of the Sept. 17 announcement, the Arizona firm was given extensions of credit of several hundred thousand dollars each by a New York boxing promoter and a Richmond direct mail firm, and a questionable one of about $50,000 from an Atlanta insurance broker.
The campaign and Victory severed their ties last January, after what some of those involved say was a dispute over access to the millions of dollars in proceeds of the Sept. 17 event. Clifford, 33, said that he and Robertson parted after he declined Robertson's request to join the campaign fulltime.
Extensions of credit to political campaigns are permitted under federal election law if made in the normal course of business, as those by the New York and Richmond firms seem to be. But the approximately $50,000 advanced to the campaign by A.L. Williams of Atlanta for two mailings last year raises questions because that is not his usual business.
A spokeswoman for Williams in Atlanta said the insurance executive agreed, after discussions with Robertson last summer, to mail invitations to the Sept. 17 event and then to mail solicitations for donations to his 140,000 agents.
Williams' foundation had donated $200,000 to the Freedom Council, a Robertson-affiliated group, earlier in the year, according to Barbara King, executive vice president of the firm.
The insurance executive made the mailings personally because his list of agents had never been used outside the firm before and he wanted to maintain control of those names, she said. The understanding was that Clifford would pay postage and printing costs in advance.
Clifford did not provide the funds, however, so Williams' firm was forced to do so, King said. Reimbursement for the approximately $50,000 Williams spent wasn't completed for nearly five months. "We were not pleased," she added. "I doubt that we would do it again."
She said it was not the firm's intention to use the mailings as a campaign contribution and that the firm believed it was in compliance with election law because Robertson was not yet a declared candidate. She added that she wasn't sure whether the Williams firm had charged Clifford for the use of the lists themselves.
FEC rulings have said that such advances can amount to contributions covered by the donation limits. Corporations can't contribute at all to federal campaigns; individuals are limited to $1,000.
Louis A. Falcigno, of New York, said in an interview yesterday that his firm, Momentum Enterprises, was hired by Clifford to provide the technical capability of sending Robertson's announcement speech via satellite to more than 200 halls around the country.
He said he usually is paid about half of his costs in advance, but wasn't for the Sept. 17 event "because I was told they didn't have the money." Instead he extended Victory "several hundred thousand dollars" in credit and made sure he would be paid off first with the proceeds.
Falcigno, who for years has promoted major closed-circuit boxing telecasts, said he wrote to the Robertson campaign several days before the Sept. 17 event asking that they assign the initial donations to pay his fees. When the agreement wasn't signed, he said, he told campaign officials the day of the event that if it wasn't signed "the show won't go on."
Clifford said R. Marc Nuttle, Robertson's campaign manager, signed the letter. Falcigno said he was paid in full within 10 days.
Another major subcontractor was William A. Royall Jr., head of a Richmond direct-mail firm, who extended Clifford about $500,000 on the mailings he was preparing for the event using donor lists rented from Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.
Royall declined to comment yesterday, saying, "We have a settlement agreement that precludes me from discussing this."
It is not clear how much of the $11 million in contributions the Robertson campaign reported on its FEC filing were the result of Victory's efforts. Nuttle said in an earlier interview that the event was self-liquidating, meaning it paid for its costs. Clifford said the Sept. 17 event alone raised between $5 million and $10 million.
He said he didn't know how much profit he made, but he usually makes 15 or 20 percent above his costs.
David West, who was Robertson's press secretary at the time of the Victory fund-raising events, said there was much debate within the campaign at the time about the unusual fund-raising approach Clifford used.
Instead of selling tickets to a fund-raising event, as most political campaigns do, Clifford invited people to the events and a pitch for donations was made, almost like a church offering, after Robertson spoke. "When it didn't produce the results we hoped, we looked back and figured that these were people who weren't used to making political donations," West said.
Clifford said he would like to work with Robertson again. "Nobody really understands what a major event we pulled off," he said. "We had 4,000 ushers and 7,000 chicken buckets to take the offering and more than 150,000 people showed up to hear Pat Robertson say he hadn't made up his mind yet whether to run for president . . . . It was a great political event."