9 senators and 100 contributors to enjoy weekend on the Shore Donors can schmooze with Sarbanes, Mikulski at St. Michaels retreat

July 11, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- It looks to be a great weekend for a little getaway on Maryland's Eastern Shore -- particularly if you're a special-interest donor chipping in to help elect Democratic senators this fall.

One hundred people from political action committees that have given at least $5,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are expected to attend the three-day retreat at the Harbortowne Golf Resort in St. Michaels, according to a DSCC spokesman. The event, closed to the public and news media, will feature plenty of give-and-take with nine Democratic senators, including Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland.

"We're just bringing business to Maryland. They're going to be doing some serious shopping," joked Shaila R. Aery, Mikulski's chief of staff, who characterized the retreat as a chance for the senators to relax with donors.

"The purpose is to get Democratic senators elected," she added. "These are people who have historically supported Democrats and Democratic senators."

But critics of the way American elections are financed had less flattering things to say about the gathering.

"Were you invited? I wasn't, either," said Ann McBride, the head of Common Cause, a citizen watchdog group. "What you have here is a cozy weekend provided to campaign contributors who will have the opportunity to rub elbows, build relationships and get pretty close to senators -- the same senators who will be making vital decisions that will affect the very interests these PACs represent."

The Eastern Shore weekend is one of several such events that campaign committees from both parties are sponsoring this year. The program kicked off last night with a dinner at Washington lobbyist Tommy Boggs' retreat in Talbot County, where Mikulski was to brief the guests about her re-election bid.

This morning, Captain Buddy Harrison -- charter boat operator and businessman -- will lead a fishing expedition off Tilghman for trophy rockfish, trout and croaker. Those staying ashore will lunch in a roped-off section of the Crab Claw restaurant. Advises a DSCC memo for guests: "Be very careful with your choice [of attire] since we will be eating crabs, which can get very messy." A walking tour through the streets and antique stores of St. Michaels will follow.

Tonight, at the Easton home of HCR Manor Care Chairman Stewart Bainum Jr., senators will discuss the work of their respective committees.

Despite a push from members of both parties in Congress for reform of the election finance system, neither party makes apologies for raising millions of dollars to help their candidates. The head of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is a leading foe of campaign finance reform.

Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission show that the Republican Senate committee raised $9.5 million during the first six months of 1998 -- nearly twice the $5 million collected by its Democratic counterpart.

"People are able to contribute in different manners. Some contribute their time, others contribute their energy," said Andrea Andrews, a spokeswoman for the Republican committee. When you attend a fund-raiser, and you get the opportunity to talk to senators, it affords you the opportunity to express your concerns about public policy."

Democratic senators scheduled to attend this weekend's session include John B. Breaux and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana; Richard H. Bryan of Nevada; Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota; Tim Johnson of South Dakota; and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, the campaign committee chairman and a potential presidential candidate in 2000. Breaux, Dorgan, and Mikulski are seeking re-election this year.

Pub Date: 7/11/98

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