Can Principles Win an Election?

February 10, 1994

Ever since Sixth District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett was elected in 1992, he has been marching to his own drummer. An avowed enemy of "big government," the Republican congressman consistently votes his principles rather than what might be politically popular.

For example, he voted against extending federal unemployment benefits even though long-term joblessness is a persistent problem in his economically beleaguered Western Maryland district, which stretches from the western edge of the Baltimore metropolitan area to the Appalachian region.

From the most recent campaign finance reports, Mr. Bartlett apparently follows his own counsel in his fund-raising, too. Rather than use his incumbency to raise large sums from political action committees and special interests immediately after the election -- as do most congressmen regardless of party affiliation -- Mr. Bartlett has not participated in the usual orgy of campaign fund-raising.

Last year, Mr. Bartlett raised $57,000, a meager amount for an incumbent. His campaign organization still has a $61,000 debt -- owed to Mr. Bartlett -- from the last election. Most incumbents pay off their campaign debts within months of the election and then start raising money for the next race.

Other members of Maryland's delegation follow that practice.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-7th, raised $377,000 in 1993, mostly from special interest groups. Since Mr. Hoyer is a member of the House leadership, the lobbyists and corporate types that fatten Mr. Hoyer's campaign coffers are interested in currying his favor.

The same is true for Rep. Ben Cardin, D-3rd, who by virtue of sitting on the influential Ways and Means Committee was able to raise $228,000 last year. And, although Rep. Helen D. Bentley, R-2nd, professes to be running for governor, her congressional campaign raised $240,000 in 1993.

What makes Mr. Bartlett's fund-raising even more notable is that a 31-year-old former congressional aide, Neil S. Dhillon, has raised $242,000 in six months in his quest for the Democratic nomination for the Sixth District seat. Mr. Dhillon has followed the classic pattern. He appealed to out-of-state interests tapping into PACs, ethnic communities and well-connected individuals.

To get elected in 1992, Mr. Bartlett spent more than $300,000. It will be quite a feat if Mr. Bartlett can rely on his principles rather than campaign funds to win re-election.

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