As likely panel head, Sarbanes gains edge Fund-raiser for '94 campaign tonight

November 17, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- As he gears up for his 1994 re-election campaign, Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes has one money-raising advantage he didn't have before: his expected chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee.

That advantage will be put to its first test tonight when the Baltimore Democrat holds a $1,000-a-ticket Washington fund-raiser for special interest political action committees, lobbyists and supporters.

With Maryland Republicans searching for a heavyweight to take him on, Mr. Sarbanes is moving into high gear to raise money for his bid for a fourth term. In his nearly quarter-century in Congress, Mr. Sarbanes says, he has always been able to raise whatever he needs to win. But the job became easier in September when the chairmanship of the Banking Committee suddenly seemed likely.

Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr., a Michigan Democrat caught up in the "Keating Five" savings and loan scandal, has announced that he will not seek re-election in 1994.

If Mr. Sarbanes wins a fourth term next year and Democrats retain control of the Senate, seniority places him in line to take over the committee that oversees the U.S. banking industry, the securities markets, federal housing and urban aid programs, and the Federal Reserve.

Committee membership is a powerful fund-raising tool, and lobbyists get plenty of invitations to attend fund-raisers and contribute.

"They bring them in by the bucket-loads," said Stephen Verdier, lobbyist for the Independent Bankers' Association. But he added, "It certainly is an attention-getter if the chairman sends" an invitation.

Mr. Verdier and other lobbyists are quick to say they have no indication that Mr. Sarbanes has become more aggressive since Mr. Riegle's announcement.

"There are some negative things one can say about Senator Sarbanes, but being a greedy fund-raiser is not one of them," said Mr. Verdier, whose organization likes some of Mr. Sarbanes votes and dislikes others.

The bankers group has given $1,000 to Mr. Sarbanes this year and is buying a $1,000 ticket for tonight's reception. .

Mike Ferrell, chief lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association, which also has given $1,000 to Mr. Sarbanes this year, said his organization is not planning to attend tonight. "And we have not gotten one call" from Mr. Sarbanes' fund-raisers, he added.

Mr. Sarbanes says he has not changed his approach to fund-raising or detected a "notable" difference in the responses from those invited to tonight's affair.

He would not predict how many people would attend or how much the event would raise, saying only that he hopes it is a "substantial" sum. "We did canvass kind of broadly," he said.

Maryland GOP officials are hoping that a major Republican figure will step forward to challenge Mr. Sarbanes. Republican state Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County is considering such a challenge. Three other Republicans have said they are running: former Cumberland Mayor Frank Nethken, state Del. C. Ronald Franks of Queen Anne's County and William T. S. Bricker of Towson, a former Maryland Motor Vehicle administrator.

Unlike many senators, who spend their entire six-year term raising money, Mr. Sarbanes generally waits until the last two years.

"I haven't sort of flipped over to become a perpetual money-raising machine," he said, decrying both the increasingly early starts to campaigns and the tendency of many of his colleagues to raise money year-in and year-out.

Mr. Sarbanes had less than $13,000 in campaign funds at the beginning of the year. In the first six months of 1993, he raised $284,536.62. Two-thirds came from individuals, most of them non-Marylanders, and the rest came from special interest political action committees, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission. He said he hopes to have a half-million dollars by the end of the year.

Last year, Maryland's other senator, Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski, spent nearly $3.2 million on her re-election campaign, twice what Mr. Sarbanes spent in 1988.

In that 1988 election, he spent $280,000 less than he did in 1982, a race in which he faced a tougher challenge.

Ms. Mikulski is a much more aggressive fund-raiser, a lobbyist said. "Mikulski is out there just hustling all the time," he said.

"I think Sarbanes is seen as a senator who can raise whatever he needs to raise," Mr. Verdier said.

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