The Buck Starts Here

The Fine Art of Campaign Finance

MONEY HAS always been the life blood of a Presidential campaign, but most campaign wisemen agree that never before has the umbilical cord between dollars and votes been so strong.

Congress has made efforts to limit fundraising free-for-alls, but, for every campaign finance limitation, political operatives seem to have dreamed up a way to get around it. And while many purists cry "foul play" from the sidelines, Republicans operatives are out-soliciting and out-spending their counterparts by often staggering margins.

Expenditures on the '84 Presidential campaign are expected to hit record highs, surpassing the $106.6 million spent on the 1980 contests by 10 to 30 percent. The lion's share of this increase, according to election officials, will come from the bank account of the Republican National Committee (RNC). Last year, the organization raised more than two and a half times the contributions garnered by the parallel Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Add to this the hefty expenditures for candidates made by "independent" political action committees (PACs)--also weighted toward the conservative end of the ideological spectrum-- and the Republicans can expect to enjoy the best campaign money can buy.

Finally, as if its fundraising edge were not substantial enough, the GOP can target all its resources for the November run-off, while Democratic hopefuls throw their funds into their nomination bids.


What makes the dollars so important are recent changes in the delegate selection process and, paradoxically, campaign finance legislation that have put a premium on high-cost politicking. Especially in primaries, the race often goes to the candidate who has purchased the most media coverage and funded the most extensive telephone and direct mail campaigns. The advance of more sophisticate and more expensive compute technology, has helped widen this spending gap.

The Republicans have been quick to turn these advanced solicitation tactics to their success. According to RNC officials, the bulk of the $35 million they collected during 1983 came from donations of $50 or less. That sum is more than twice the $17 million the committee collected in advance of the 1980 race.

Not only technology, but also politics, have paved the way for the successful GOP shakedown The invasion of Grenada and downing of the Korean Airlines jet by the Soviet Union created a surge in Reagan's popularity that found its financial expression in campaign contributions, RNC financial director Philip Smith says.

Most of the RNC's contributions are solicited through direct mailings run by outside consulting firms. The committee snags roughly 20 percent of its donations from several business donor organizations, such as the "Republican Eagle program," whose members each contribute between $10,000 and the legal maximum of $20,000.

The DNC has tried to keep pace with the smoothly-oiled Republican machine, but with considerably less success. The committee has thus far raised far less than the GOP's $35 million, and several campaign officials blaim the lag on peer management in the DNC camp. These critics point to the $2.8 million loss on a highly publicized telethon last September, which DNC Chairman Charles T. Manatt and either committee members estimated would set a record $10 to $20 million. And a December fundraising tour raised barely half of its projected $2.5 million gain.

Individual candidates have tried to compensate for limited party funds by raising unprecedented amounts for their individual campaigns. Former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale and Sen. John H. Glenn (D-Ohio) lead the pack by a country mile, with each collecting more than twice the contributions of their nearest Democratic rival. Both Mondale and Glenn have raised more money in 1983 than former President Jimmy Carter stockpiled four years before.

The Mondale financial machine is probably in the strongest shape. Timothy Finchem, finance director for Mondale, says the campaign has stayed out of debt (unlike Glenn's) and has yet to lose its early momentum. Finchem explains, "An important aim of the campaign is to secure the Democratic nomination early in the primaries so that we can concentrate on developing a base of financial support for the final election."

Not all efforts have run so smoothly. Paul A. Rosenberg '75, finance director for Glenn attributes the recent stagnation in the Senator's fundraising campaign to temporary factors, but rival finance officials claim Glenn has now exhausted support within his home state of Ohio, and has been unable to build a strong national base for fundraising.

The other Democratic contenders lag even further behind Mondale, and may be severely hamstrung by their lack of funds. McGovern, who entered the race last October, has collected less than $30,000 compared to Mondale's $11 and Glenn's $7 million. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson has thus far raised close to $500,000.

The disparity between Mondale's seeming financial ease and other, more impoverished, campaigns has not gone unnoticed; several officials from rival campaigns complain that Mondale's early backing from labor unions has given him an unfair advantage in the race, allowing him to exceed the limits on state campaign spending set by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). "Not only can he exploit union mail and union workers without having this spending registered with FEC," Woodward Wilson, a top McGovern staffer, says.