Republicans, Democrats filling campaign coffers at record pace, study says By November election, parties each expect to raise as much as $120 million

Campaign 1996

September 22, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Despite the avowed commitment of the Democratic and Republican parties to campaign finance reform, each has been raking in contributions from corporations and wealthy benefactors at a record pace, according to a new analysis of the most recent campaign finance reports.

Republicans have benefited from a vastly increased flow of tobacco dollars as the industry seeks to counter an assault by the Clinton administration. The Democrats, for their part, have been fueled by generous contributions by trial lawyers, labor unions and Hollywood -- as well as several unusually large individual gifts from nontraditional donors, including a great-grandnephew of Mahatma Gandhi.

Tobacco concerns have already given the Republicans $3.9 million -- twice their total donations to the GOP for the entire presidential election cycle four years ago.

More than two months before the November election, the Republicans and Democrats have taken in far more so-called soft money than they garnered in the entire 1992 campaign, according to the new analysis -- an assessment of records by the Campaign Study Group of Springfield, Va.

The total of such contributions for the Republican National Committee and various Senate and congressional committees is $75.2 million; for the Democrats, $67.4 million. In 1991-1992, the GOP collected $36.9 million; the Democrats, $51.5 million.

By the November election, the parties each expect to raise as much as $120 million.

Both parties have benefited from the largess of Wall Street, health care interests, real estate developers and telecommunications companies. Indeed, the number of deep-pocket patrons of both parties -- those who hedge their political bets by writing checks to each side -- has doubled since four years ago.

The computer-assisted study analyzed Federal Election Commission records available from Jan. 1, 1995, through Sept. 1, 1996. Corporate contributions include all money given by company, its political action committee, and employees of the company and their spouses.

Many of the major donors are companies, labor unions or advocacy groups that have high-stake interests in federal legislation and policy.

"There is an attitude of an arms race when it comes to money in politics," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks federal campaign contributions. "There's no such thing as having too much money."

Direct contributions to federal candidates, "hard money" in the language of campaign finance, are strictly limited. Corporations are prohibited to make such contributions, and individuals and political action committees can only give limited amounts.

But corporations, labor unions and individuals are permitted to contribute unlimited amounts of soft money to the national political parties and Senate and congressional campaign committees to register voters, promote partisan allegiance and engage in other activities.

The money is not supposed to go toward endorsing or opposing individual candidates, but the parties have blurred those lines this year by running television ads focusing on presidential and congressional hopefuls without explicitly urging viewers to vote for or against the respective candidates.

Overall, the most lucrative source of funds for both parties has been financial service companies. The Republicans received $12.2 million from the industry, including $5.5 million from securities and investment banking companies; the Democrats received $7.8 million, more than half of it from securities and investment companies.

The top donor to the GOP in this sector was Signet Banking Corp., which gave $431,621. It was followed by Reliance Group Holdings, an insurance company controlled by financier Saul Steinberg, at $350,000, and PaineWebber Group Inc. at $340,000.

On the Democratic side, three executives from Goldman Sachs & Co. contributed $395,000, and Dirk Ziff, chairman of Ziff Bros. Investment in New York, gave $380,000. Goldman Sachs, the former company of Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, was a major Democratic donor in 1992; Ziff is a prominent Clinton supporter.

Many of the largest contributors gave lavishly to both parties. The partisan division of government, with Democrats controlling the White House and Republicans the Congress, encourages such split allegiance, campaign analysts said.

Tobacco companies have traditionally been among the double donors. They remain so but have reallocated the balance of their contributions to favor the Republicans.

Overall, tobacco interests anted up $4.7 million in soft money, only $750,512 of which went to the Democratic committees.

Three of the top five GOP donors were tobacco-related. Leading the way were Philip Morris Cos., which gave the Republicans a total of $1.6 million; RJR Nabisco Inc., $970,450; and U.S. Tobacco Co., the nation's leading smokeless tobacco producer, $448,768.

Philip Morris, which sells food and beer as well as cigarettes, gave the Democrats $349,250, and RJR Nabisco gave $174,456.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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