Americans, aroused by issues like inflation at home and disturbed by events abroad, have been giving money to presidential campaign war chests at a record pace.
As 1980 began, the candidates had received nearly $40 million from individual contributors -- more than double the $19.1 million received at the same point by the 1976 contenders.
In January, the giving pace showed no sign of slackening. Close to $6 million was raised last month, according to campaign estimates given to the Monitor.
An easing in public displeasure over politics following the Watergate, scandal, greater familiarity with the 1974 campaign finance law, and better and direct-mail fund-raising techniques are among reasons given to explain the high contribution rate.
"Inflation is very important to people right now," says Herbert E. Alexander, a University of Southern California expert on campaign finance who writes a book on the subject every four years. "So is energy. So is foreign policy. Politics is more pitched now. People think it is more important."
"There is also a greater general affluence in the country, despite the talk of inflation," Mr. Alexander continues. "There is evidence more money is available for House and Senate races, too. People are more accustomed to the finance law, which went into effect in 1975. And people, turned off by Watergate, are perhaps now coming back into the political fray."
Kent Cooper, a Federal Elections Commission (FEC) ex pert, says: "Individuals who can't give in the general election, which is financed out of federal funds, are now giving more to the primaries. Also, the fund-raising pros are better at targeting givers and going back to them for more."
So far, Republican John B. Connally has been the big money-drawer of the 1980 campaign. He had raised $9.1 million by the end of December and added $800,000 during the January. Ronald Reagan was second with $7.2 million at the end of 1979 -- but raised the most, $1.1 million, during January.
President Carter had raised $5.7 million in 1979, according to his campaign report filed with the FEC. The $1 million he added this January was nearly equaled by his challenger, Edward M. Kennedy, despite Senator Kennedy's slippage in the polls. The Kennedy forces had raised $3.9 million in their three- month 1979 effort. But $1 million of this was in loans from two banks. Mr. Reagan also had borrowed $1 million in 1979, and Howard H. Baker Jr., $550,000 and California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., $151,000, respctively, according to the FEC. Mr. Brown raised $1.4 million in 1979.
This year's giving appears to be broadly based, with many small contributors. Even Mr. Connally, while tagged "the board-room candidate," has received the maximum $1,000 from only 4,440 givers -- accounting for $440,000 of his nearly $ 10 million to date. The average Connally contribution is $180, with 39,000 contributions under $100, a spokesman for his campaign says.
As 1976 began, George C. Wallace was the money leader, having raised $3.1 million in 1975, followed by Sen. Henry M. Jackson ($2.2 million), Mr. Reagan ($ 1.9 million), Gerald Ford ($1.6 million), and Mr. Carter (less than $1 million).
The practice of taking out loans in anticipation of receiving federal matching funds for contributions already in hand began in 1976, when the so-called Buckley case delayed matching funds payments, Mr. Alexander says. But in 1975 there had been no large borrowings.
The 100 percent increase in 1980 campaign giving over 1976 more than offsets the 35 percent cost-of-living inflation rise over the same period. However, for at least one campaign expense category, air charters, costs have climbed more than 100 percent, forcing campaigns to switch to regular commercial flights.
Still, campaign fund-raisers say they feel the pinch of the 1974 election law more on spending -- limited to $17.7 million per candidate this year -- than in fund raising. In crucial tests, like the New Hampshire primary, the spending limit per candidate is less than $300,000 which is far less than most candidates would like to spend.
The $1,000 limit on individual contributions and the $50,000 limit on a candidate's giving to his own campaign have not been adjusted for inflation since enactment in 1974.
Among the major candidates, January collections were nearly equal. Not only did Mr. Reagan, President Carter, and Senator Kennedy raise about $1 million each, but so did Republican George Bush. Mr. Connally's $800,000 was next. Senator Baker's total was $480,000. Traditionally, the New Hampshire primary Feb. 26 is the big spigot-turner -- on as well as off -- although this year matching funds may enable candidates to carry on longer.
The Kennedy campaign was encouraged by a fund-raising appeal in New England tagged onto the end of a half-hour TV replay of the Senator's Georgetown University address Jan. 28. Within a week, the return was double the cost of the program. Kennedy campaign staffers are thinking of doing a national TV fund-raiser, after possible regional testing, to give the campaign national depth and bring in much-needed cash.