Lavish fund-raiser in nation's capital to benefit Sarbanes CAMPAIGN 1994 -- U.S. SENATE

June 27, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell and Nelson Schwartz | John B. O'Donnell and Nelson Schwartz,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who kicks off his re-election bid today in a setting that emphasizes his humble origins, will be a beneficiary tomorrow of a $5,000-a-ticket Washington fund-raiser featuring President Clinton and with some high-powered lobbyists as hosts.

The guest list for the dinner, which could pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into Mr. Sarbanes' campaign treasury, includes representatives of organized labor and of companies and industries overseen by the Senate Banking Committee. Mr. Sarbanes will become chairman of that committee in January if he wins re-election and the Democrats retain control of the Senate.

Mr. Sarbanes and Sen. Jim Sasser of Tennessee, each seeking a fourth term, will share the dinner proceeds -- up to the legal limit, with excess money going to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The lavish dinner is expected to draw more than 150 guests, said Ken Klein, a spokesman for the committee, and to cost $30,000 to $35,000. It will be held at the Sheraton Carlton Hotel, far removed from the site of Mr. Sarbanes' official campaign launching. The son of Greek immigrants, he will stage that ceremony at his boyhood home in Salisbury, where his mother, Matina Sarbanes, still lives.

Mr. Sarbanes and Mr. Sasser serve together on the banking and budget committees, the latter chaired by the Tennessee senator, and are close friends. Mr. Sasser has announced his candidacy for Senate majority leader next year, and Mr. Sarbanes is supporting him.

Mr. Sasser won his seat in 1976 by defeating the incumbent, William E. Brock, who now lives in Annapolis and is running for the Republican nomination to oppose Mr. Sarbanes.

In another link to Tennessee, Mr. Sarbanes held a fund-raiser in Baltimore on June 6 that featured Vice President Al Gore, whose father, Sen. Albert Gore Sr., was unseated by Mr. Brock in 1970.

Federal election law permits individuals to contribute $2,000 to a congressional candidate and allows political action committees to give $10,000. Proceeds from tomorrow's dinner will be split evenly between the two senators unless donors designate otherwise. For example, if an individual buys a $5,000 ticket, $2,000 will go to each senator, unless the donor already has contributed to them, and the remaining $1,000 will go to the senatorial campaign committee, an organization dedicated to electing Democrats to the Senate.

"We hope to raise a few hundred thousand dollars," said Michael Davis, Mr. Sarbanes' campaign manager. "We'll do pretty well."

He said Mr. Sarbanes now has about $1.1 million in his campaign treasury.

The affair was criticized by advocates of campaign finance reform.

"These fund-raising dinners are the classic business-as-usual event," said Bob Schiff, a staff attorney at Public Citizen's Congress Watch, a Ralph Nader organization that advocates stricter ethical standards for government officials. "The people who come have big wallets and often big expectations for the influence their participation will give them."

Ellen Miller, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, another private group here, said Mr. Sarbanes is "only paying lip service to real reform" by holding this kind of event while voting for campaign finance reform legislation.

Mr. Sarbanes last year supported a bill designed to lessen the influence of special-interest money and to reduce the cost of campaigns. Among other things, it would ban contributions from political action committees and lobbyists. The House has passed a substantially different version, and efforts to work out a compromise are under way.

"Until that reform becomes law, you abide by the law as it is," Bruce Frame, the senator's press secretary, said in defending the fund-raiser.

The host committee for tomorrow's dinner includes Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., one of Washington's premier lobbyists, and Edward L. Yingling, lobbyist for the American Bankers Association. Among the financial services companies and banks that will be represented at the dinner are Banc One, NationsBank, Paine Webber and Florida's Barnett Bank.

Representatives of labor unions, another traditional bastion of support for Mr. Sarbanes and other incumbents, also will attend, including the National Education Association and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Mr. Klein said.

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