Shaking the money tree

August 20, 1992

The formidable power of Republican money is on display in Houston this week, just as the Democratic money trees were in full green leaf at the New York convention last month.

"More and more," reports Congressional Quarterly magazine, "both parties' conventions are becoming massive fund-raising operations." It estimates the GOP will raise more than $10 million this week, and that figure may be way too low.

Yesterday, the granddaddy of the GOP effort drew 4,500 party loyalists to a $1,000-a-plate luncheon to fill the coffers of the Republican National Committee. "Fund-raising events have been one of the most decisive constants in the American political arena since 1960," a gala brochure gushed. "While TV advertising and reforms change the rules by which American politics are played out upon the national stage, fund-raising events provide one of the periodic apogees in every campaign."

Ponder that statement. Despite one campaign financing reform after another, despite public outcry over the power of money in American politics, here you have hundreds of candidates from President Bush to Maryland House hopeful Larry Hogan Jr.descending on Houston with their hands outstretched, palms up. Reforms do indeed "change the rules," but the tide of private and corporate ego and special-interest money rises ever higher.

CQ notes that a campaign financing reform law passed hours before President Richard Nixon resigned in 1972 has been repeatedly ignored or riddled with loopholes approved by the Federal Election Commission. The notion that the voluntary dollar checkoff on your income tax return would limit presidential campaigns to public financing is one big joke on ordinary citizens.

Both parties are adept at circumventing what toothsome regulations may still be around. Mothers' milk still flows with few constraints. At yesterday's gala, in which President Bush and Vice President Quayle shared billings with massed trombones and Houston Oiler cheerleaders, Texas oil money was on proud display, personified by Lodwrick H. Cook, chairman of ARCO and of the gala.

At least a lot is out in the open. Dozens of fund-raisers are listed daily in convention schedules, just as they were at the Democratic National Convention in New York.

"I can't think of a better place to do fund-raising than at a national convention," says Texas Sen. Phil Gramm. Come to think of it, we can't either, which may lead voters to think again when they see that dollar checkoff on their tax return next April.

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