Sarbanes tapping ready supply of out-of-state funds

Senator prepares to run by visiting friends in West

June 04, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland took advantage of this week's congressional recess to head to the West Coast for the beckoning climate, the companionship of old friends -- and the company of Greek-American donors whose financial support he will rely on as he pursues a fifth term in office next year.

At several events this week in California and elsewhere, Sarbanes is likely to secure more than $100,000 in contributions, largely from Greek-American donors who have given in the past.

Sarbanes, the son of Greek immigrants who ran a diner in Salisbury, has a reputation as a cerebral and understated legislator. But he is frequently vocal about Greek-Turkish tensions and other issues important to people of Greek descent.

"Not only are we so tremendously proud of him as a member of the Greek-American community who has achieved such stature in the Senate, but we believe he is truly an expert on how to keep peace in an area that we care so much about," said Eleni Tsakopoulos, a developer. "It's important to keep that voice in the position it's in."

Though no major Republican challenger to Sarbanes has surfaced, the senator is pursuing a full schedule of fund-raisers. In California, the itinerary included:

A dinner Tuesday night in Los Angeles, where about 50 people paid at least $250 each to attend. Sarbanes spoke about issues affecting Cyprus and the war in Kosovo, a delicate topic, given his support for the NATO airstrikes. Many Greeks oppose the bombardment out of fear that it could destabilize the region.

"When it comes to Kosovo, probably 90 [percent] or 95 percent of the people there didn't agree with the senator's stance," said Harry Siafaris, a restaurateur who attended the dinner. "We still like him. He does support and speak for us on the [other] Greek-American issues."

A pool-side reception Wednesday night at the Sacramento home of Tsakopoulos' parents, where about 100 people were expected to chip in more than $35,000, noshing on lamb kebabs and spanakopita while listening to traditional Greek music.

A dinner for 45 people last night at the nouveau Greek San Francisco restaurant owned by George Marcus, a developer, expected to generate $30,000.

Sarbanes' trip West roughly fits a pattern in his Senate campaigns: In four days in June 1993, the senator netted $137,000 from donors in California, Utah, Illinois and New York.

Unlike many politicians who like to advertise their fund-raising prowess to scare off rivals, Sarbanes tends to play down that he raises money at all.

"It's not part of his public schedule," said Jesse Jacobs, the senator's spokesman. "He's visiting with family and friends out of state, and raising money."

"Part of this trip is that we're renewing ties," Jacobs said. "This one has no [fund-raising] goals."

The donors at these early events tend to serve as fund-raisers themselves once the campaign moves into high gear. Though Sarbanes is not among the Senate's top fund-raisers, he can raise sizable sums.

In 1994, 73 percent of the itemized donations made to Sarbanes' campaign from individual contributors -- $948,000 -- came from out of state; and donations from political action committees made up more than half of his $2.7 million campaign fund.

Though he has not yet formally announced that he will seek a fifth six-year term, Sarbanes has made clear that he will.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey's weak showing in the Maryland governor's race last fall left Republican officials skeptical about their ability to win statewide races, and rumblings of a challenge to Sarbanes from Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, began to wane. Despite the recent efforts of Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, to raise her profile, she, too, is considered unlikely to run for the Senate.

Officially, both Ehrlich and Morella say they have not decided whether to challenge Sarbanes, and both are aggressively seeking donations for their federal campaign committees, which can be used for either a House or a Senate run. Their hesitancy has left Maryland Republicans on the defensive, even though they contended that Sarbanes was ripe for toppling.

"The [Republican] candidate is probably going to come from the business community or the General Assembly," said Dick Leggitt, a consultant to the state Republicans. For the GOP to be taken seriously in Maryland, he said, it must offer a credible challenger.

So far, none has emerged.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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