- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004


A new campaign law designed to reduce the influence of money in politics didn’t undo the advantage of big spending in the congressional elections: Nearly all the highest-spending candidates won.

In the House, at least 96 percent of the biggest spenders — mostly incumbents — prevailed, Federal Election Commission (FEC) figures show. In the Senate, about 94 percent of those who spent the most won.

The percentages were similar to the margins in 2002.

The only high spenders who didn’t fare well overall were those who bankrolled their own campaigns. None of the candidates who tapped enough of their own money to trigger a feature of the law that allows opponents to accept bigger donations won Tuesday. They include beer baron and Colorado Republican Senate candidate Pete Coors and former junk-bond trader E.J. Pipkin, a Republican who challenged Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

The most expensive Senate race was another of the handful of cases in which big spending didn’t pay off. Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and the Senate minority leader, lost to Republican John Thune despite spending nearly $6 million more as of mid-October, the most recent figures available.

Likewise, in the contest for an open Senate seat in Oklahoma, Republican Tom Coburn defeated Democrat Brad Carson after starting the last two weeks of the campaign about $1.5 million behind in spending.

In all, House and Senate candidates competing in the general election spent at least $712 million this election cycle, up about 15 percent from 2002, an FEC analysis found.

The new law, meant to take six-figure and larger contributions out of federal elections, might have been a factor in the higher congressional spending. Although it banned the national party committees and presidential and congressional hopefuls from raising corporate, union and unlimited donations known as soft money, the law doubled the maximum amount individual people can give federal candidates to $2,000, from $1,000.

The boost helped fuel record spending in the presidential race. President Bush and Sen. John Kerry accounted for nearly one-third of the roughly $1.8 billion that they and congressional candidates spent on the primaries and general election.

How the new law influenced political giving in the 2003-2004 election cycle is likely to be the subject of congressional debate in the coming months. Although it barred the national party committees from accepting soft money, the law hasn’t prevented a score of partisan outside groups from stepping in to collect those big checks.

Campaign watchdogs and the law’s sponsors, Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, want Congress to pass legislation cracking down on the new soft-money groups.

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