In Politics, Money Talks

August 16, 1996

In Politics, Money Talks

Money talks. And politicians listen. It's the same old story, even after steps taken in Congress this year to reduce the appearance of impropriety that has sometimes attended gifts, golf tournaments and other favors conferred by private corporations to government officials.

To be sure, people working in the House and Senate now have strict limits on the value of gifts, meals and other favors they can accept. Except--and it's a big exception--if the favors come dressed in explicitly political clothing.

Dozens of major corporation spent millions of dollars in San Diego this month to wine and dine political officials, including the many Members of Congress in attendance. Some threw huge parties. Others, such as Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, didn't host events but contributed many thousands of dollars worth of goods (liquid refreshment, in Seagram's case). Ethics police in Congress ruled that Members could go to the "widely attended events" in San Diego even if the value of what they received exceeded House or Senate limits.

Meanwhile, gifts in the form of political contributions are on a steep upward trend, especially for Republican congressional incumbents.

The Federal Election Commission has released data showing that House candidates in this fall's elections have raised $279 million in the first 18 months of the election cycle--up more than 24 percent from two years earlier. Of the total, $77 million has come from political action committees (PACs).

Republicans are in the lead, with $152.6 million (of which $41 million is from PACs), an increase of 50 percent over the last cycle. The GOP has 56 more incumbents in the House than it had two years ago.

Democrats have raised $125 million, just slightly more than in the last cycle. There are 58 fewer Democratic incumbents in the House this time.

Champion fund-raiser in the House is Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., with $3,603,785 million gathered during the past 18 months. Second is House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., with $2,957,086. In third place is veteran Rep. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who raised $2,228,086.

Schumer had nearly $2 million in political cash already banked from earlier cycles, and so if money equals power he emerges as the Fattest Cat in the House--with $4,117,618 in cash on hand.

The FEC report is available on-line at:

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