Political parties set fund-raising record

As soft-money donations near $151 million, House prepares to vote on ban

February 11, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - As the House heads toward a key vote on campaign finance legislation, Republicans and Democrats have been raising money so aggressively that they are breaking records, despite an informal fund-raising moratorium after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Officials of the two political parties say their year-end reports for 2001 will show they pulled in about $151 million in the large unlimited contributions known as soft money for this year's midterm elections. The Republicans raised $87.8 million, and the Democrats took in $63.1 million.

That is nearly a 50 percent increase over 1999, the last comparable year in which there was no federal election. That year, the parties raised $107 million, a record then for an off-year, according to Common Cause, a group that studies such fund raising.

Seth Amgott, a spokesman for Common Cause, called the increase over 1999 "all the more striking" because much of the 1999 fund raising was geared toward the 2000 presidential election, while this year only Congress and governorships are in play.

Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said, "In spite of the downturn in the political season because of the horrible tragedy of 9-11, the national party committees have been busy and extremely successful."

Some analysts who study the numbers predict that the figures could turn out to be even higher than the parties are saying. The Federal Election Commission is examining the reports.

Party officials and fund-raisers say the race for dollars has become ever more frenetic because of the closeness of the 2000 presidential race and the importance of the this year's congressional elections, in which control of the House and the Senate could be at stake.

Fear of change is also spurring the fund raising to new heights, they say.

The Senate has passed a broad campaign-finance bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, that would ban the large soft-money contributions to political parties from businesses, unions and wealthy people.

The House is scheduled to vote on a similar measure this week, raising the possibility of the most comprehensive overhaul of the campaign law since the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

So the parties have been in a drive to raise soft money in case such fund raising is ended. They have also been pushing harder to raise the smaller, more regulated donations known as hard money, fearing they will have to rely more on such contributions.

"Obviously we've made contingency plans, and we're making every effort to boost our hard-money fund-raising ability," said James M. Jordan, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "But there's been no break whatsoever in our soft-money fund-raising efforts."

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said that though he opposes a soft money ban, he has worked to ensure that House Republicans would be in good shape should one pass.

"We have been preparing for this," Davis said, predicting that his committee would raise $40 million in smaller regulated contributions by Election Day and swamp the Democrats, who have trouble competing in such fund raising.

Fund-raisers say they feel no letup in the pressure. "There's always one more ad to buy," said Richard Hohlt, a longtime Republican fund-raiser. "There's always one more mailing to do."

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