The Year Of Campaigning Cheaply

Last fall, as Democrats were lining up for the Presidential race, the conventional wisdom said that Bill Clinton, governor of the impoverished, sparsely populated state of Arkansas, would have trouble raising money. Charismatic Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska would easily tap Hollywood's mother lode, giving him a headstart in the race. Labor-backed Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa would be bankrolled by unions. And President Bush would have so much fund-raising power that no Republican would dare challenge him.

So much for conventional wisdom. By the end of 1991, Clinton had raised $3.3 million, including an astounding $1.5 million in Arkansas alone, according to new data filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). In January, despite allegations of marital infidelity that nearly derailed his candidacy, the Clinton campaign pulled in an additional $1.6 million. Meanwhile, Kerrey's charisma seemed to shrivel in the New Hampshire cold. Through the end of January, he had raised only $2.9 million. Of that, a substantial $400,000 came from entertainment-industry moguls, but Clinton is running neck-and-neck with Kerrey in the Southern California money race.

GRASS ROOTS. Harkin, meanwhile, has pulled in $180,000 from organized labor--a respectable but not awe-inspiring sum. Harkin's total for 1991 is $2.2 million, not including January figures, which the candidate won't release. A large portion of his money comes from political action committees--$115,000 at yearend--and from "low-dollar activists," according to a spokeswoman. Harkin's average direct-mail contribution from individuals is $38. Harkin has done well among Florida's Jewish community and in Iowa, his home state. Aides to Jerry Brown say he had raised about $500,000 by Dec. 31, but names of contributors were not available at the FEC.The power of incumbency has allowed President Bush to collect $10 million, more than all his rivals put together. But his grip on GOP purse strings hasn't kept right-wing commentator Patrick J. Buchanan from mounting a spirited challenge in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 18. Buchanan used direct mail to raise $707,000 through Dec. 31.

Candidates don't need huge war chests to compete in New Hampshire. Former Massachusetts Senator Paul E. Tsongas had raised just over $1 million as of yearend and is struggling to pay the rent on his campaign headquarters. But he's running only a few points behind Clinton in the polls. Tsongas raised a further $250,000 in the past 10 days, and he may find fund-raising easier if he wins or places in New Hampshire.

As always in politics, early money can lead to front-runner status, which further opens the cash spigot. Such funds will become vitally important in the three weeks following New Hampshire, when 23 other states hold primaries or caucuses.

Clinton has been especially successful at leveraging his early money. Arkansas supporters, including executives of such home-state companies as Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart Stores, broker Stephens Inc., and nursing-home chain Beverly Enterprises, came through with contributions soon after Clinton announced his candidacy in October. Wal-Mart founder Sam M. Walton and 14 other members of his clan gave $12,000.

UNSUNG HERO. Although individual contributions are limited to $1,000, Clinton took in no less than $900,000 from a single December event at Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel. Publicly, Clinton's treasurer, Robert A. Farmer, gets most of the credit for these successes, though until recently he was on leave from the campaign. But campaign sources say the unsung hero is Rahm I. Emanuel, 32, a Chicago native who raised funds for Mayor Richard M. Daley and for Midwestern congressional Democrats. Emanuel tapped into Wall Street's largess with the help of Goldman, Sachs & Co. partner Kenneth D. Brody, whose Dec. 10 party for Clinton attracted dozens of investment bankers, brokers, lawyers--and $287,000 in contributions.

Kerrey has reached his share of luminaries. The list includes retired IBM Chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr., author Thomas J. Peters, Play-boy Enterprises President Christie A. Hefner, U.S. West President Richard D. McCormick, Amerada Hess President Leon Hess, and Enron Chairman Kenneth L. Lay. Kerrey's Hollywood backers include producer Norman Lear, director Lawrence Kasdan, and agent Michael Ovitz. Actor Robert Redford, though, is playing hard to get. So far, only Harkin has gotten a check with that famous autograph. Other Democrats would love an endorsement from Redford, whose decisions influence many liberal activists.

In all, the top seven candidates have raised just under $20 million. At this point four years ago, 13 candidates had raised $102 million. The drop-off is a result of the late-starting campaign, the small field of candidates, and the recession.

Maybe that's healthy. Amid early signs that voters are paying more attention to candidates' messages than to slick, 30-second TV spots, tight money just might produce a campaign that's more than sound bites and fury.

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