Political Money Pit

October 22, 1994

By Maryland standards, Parris Glendening's $6 million campaign is astounding. It's double what William Donald Schaefer spent in 1986. It comes close to matching what the National Rifle Association spent on the gun-control referendum in 1988. On a per capita basis, if not in grand totals, it compares to what's happening in other states.

Oliver North in Virginia raised and spent $6 million in just the third quarter of this year! Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has spent $7.5 million and her challenger, Rep. Michael Huffington, has expended $17.6 million so far.

This is political madness.

FTC Candidates blame their obsessive fund-raising on the high cost of campaigning today. To broadcast television commercials throughout a state -- at saturation level -- requires tons of dollars. The problem is especially acute in states where there is more than one major television market.

But is that a good enough reason to squeeze tens of thousands of dollars out of individuals and businesses that are looking to get on a candidate's good side? These donors aren't shelling out this money out of the goodness of their hearts. They are looking for a quid pro quo from the candidate.

Equally distasteful is the way candidates are using this money. Not only are they saturating the airwaves with their ads, but they are slinging mud at an unseemly pace. Negative advertising is the latest fad among political consultants. Dirty the opposition. Pound away at your foe for being soft on crime, a tax-raiser, a wimp, a womanizer -- or for simply being an incumbent. And use TV ads to make your opponent look like Attila the Hun.

Until this year, Maryland had avoided this contagion. No longer. What happened to Mr. Glendening in the primary is what he is trying to do now to Republican Ellen Sauerbrey.

He's not alone, though. Richard Bennett is going after incumbent Attorney General J. Joseph Curran for being soft on criminals; Bill Brock is excoriating incumbent Sen. Paul Sarbanes for a host of alleged sins and getting hit, in return, as a carpetbagger. Wherever you look, candidates are accentuating the negative and rarely discussing the positive. Lincoln-Douglas debates are pre-history.

Politics in the 1990s is becoming a real money pit. No matter how much is raised, it isn't enough. More and more air time seems to be required to blast away at opponents. The professional spin-artist school of politics is in vogue.

And the voters are the big losers.

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