Fund raising overshadows issues. THE RACE FOR MONEY. These days candidates raise dollars, TV does the campaigning
President Reagan has been to Florida twice this year, and plans to drop in again later this month. Vice-President George Bush has visited three times, and there have also been trips here by Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, and former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. The motive for all of these visits: to raise money for Republican Sen. Paula Hawkins. Cold cash -- millions of dollars -- has become central to modern-day American politics. The Watergate scandal, new campaign laws, and tireless work by reformers have done nothing to diminish the power of the dollar in the US system. More than ever, money can be used to sway public opinion, generate voter support, and turn a likely loser into a sure winner.Skip to next paragraph
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Republicans, with Mr. Reagan leading the way, have pioneered new methods to raise and spend money. The President has proven to be a particularly adept fund-raiser. In 22 trips to 20 states this year, he has brought in $28 million in contributions, including $16 million for Republican candidates for the Senate, according to an official at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Yet that's only a fraction of the $400 million or so that candidates are expected to spend this year running for the House and Senate. ``It's getting close to being out of hand,'' says Democratic fund-raiser Randy Wilhelm. ``Each year, more and more campaigns are spending more money than they really need to spend.''
Sen. George Mitchell of Maine, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says the Republican advantage in fund raising will make a tremendous difference in this year's races. If Democrats raised ``anywhere near equal'' the amount raised by Republicans, he says, Senate races ``wouldn't be a contest in 1986.''
Few states will see more money flying around in the campaign this year than Florida. Spending in the US Senate race alone could climb to more than $12 million by Nov. 4.
Florida Gov. Bob Graham, the Democratic nominee for the Senate, expects to pour $5.5 million into the contest, including about $3.3 million for television ads. That's more than any other Democratic challenger in the country this year.
Senator Hawkins, the freshman Republican defending her seat, will probably spend even more. She's getting massive help from the White House (one Reagan visit raised about $600,000) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which will chip in about $750,000. Her total could reach $6.5 million.
All of this spending alarms some reformers, such as Common Cause, which charges that money is buying too much power and influence in Washington. Common Cause has been particularly outspoken about campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs).
Yet campaign reforms after Watergate made a tremendous impact on the way candidates like Governor Graham and Mrs. Hawkins raise their funds.
There was a time when ``fat cats'' seeking influence in Washington could write a check for $10,000 or $25,000. It made fund raising easy for candidates. But it shocked the sensibilities of American voters.