Campaign spending isn't a seasonal activity any more. It goes on year round. NBC's Lisa Myers looks at one reason why: many Congressional campaigns need to raise money not for the upcoming election, but to pay off debts from the previous one.
Campaign Fundraising Now a Year-Round Activity
ROGER MUDD, anchor:
In the 1982 congressional campaign cycle, close to 350 million dollars was raised and spent, but campaign spending is not a seasonal activity anymore, it goes on year round. And as Lisa Myers reports in tonight’s special segment, the winners take all.
LISA MYERS, reporting:
It looks like any other fundraiser, full of lobbyist who pay 250 dollars each for a drink and a few words with a congressman. What makes this one different is not the 30,000 dollars raised tonight goes not towards the next campaign but to pay off debts from the last one. Congressman Rep. Solomon Ortiz of Texas.
Rep. SOLOMON ORTIZ, (D) Texas: At this point I am indebted to the banks because I have to go to the banks and borrow money and use some of my property as collateral. And yes then I wouldn’t be able to raise the funds, then I would be responsible to pay off this debt.
MYERS: Which means that these checks which go into Ortiz’s campaign funds might as well be going into a personal bank account, he benefits personally and directly from them. Every 250 dollars Ortiz gets from say Rockwell International, is 250 dollars that he doesn’t have to take out of his own pocket, yet it’s all legal. Some of the same lobbyists are helping Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee; pay off the mortgage on his family farm. He mortgaged it to raise money for his campaign, and is still 400,000 dollars in debt.
Rep. JIM COOPER, Tennessee: It is true that I have guaranteed the debts and if we can’t raise money then I would have to contribute a lot more than I already have.
MYERS: So every dollar raised from a special interest is a dollar saved for Jim Cooper. Still it is legal. In fact every new Congressman out of Hawk has become almost a bi-annual ritual. Special interests have kicked in millions since the last election, to help about 50 members of Congress with sizable campaign debts. Doctors, bankers, labor unions, realtors, they are all after the same thing, that congressman’s vote.
BILL RICHARDSON, New Mexico: There are days when checks just show up.
MYERS: When New Mexico’s Bill Richardson won a powerful House, Energy and Congress committee, the money started rolling in, from oil companies, insurance companies, many which opposed him during the campaign. He has been able to cut his debts to the banks by 100 thousand dollars. Still he worries.
RICHARDSON: Deep in your mind there is a vote and maybe it isn’t very important to your district, so how are you going to decide that vote? Is it going to be on the basis of a donation? Or is it going to be on the basis of the merits of the issue, and it becomes like a Noose around your neck.
MYERS: Richard Thatstun is a lobbyist for the realtors, who hands out millions in contributions in each election.
RICHARD THAXTON, National Assembly of Realtors: I know it sounds trite to say that all we are looking for is good government. Well we are looking for good government; we are looking for people who are interested in solutions to problems that will benefit our members who will benefit homebuyers.
MYERS: But as Congressman Robin Talon of South Carolina will tell you, some lobbyist expect for than just good government for their money. A lobbyist from the American Medical Association expected Tallon’s vote.
Rep. ROBIN TALLON: Well I told him real quick, you are not going to assume anything and if you want your 2,000-dollar check back you can have it.
MYERS: But the cost in contributions to pay off debts benefited a Congressman directly and because lobbyist usually expect something in return, critics charge this practice comes dangerously close to being an illegal form of vote buying. Lisa Myer’s, NBC News, at the US capital.