CONTRIBUTORS from every state in the Union helped finance former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in his election to the Louisiana Legislature, according to campaign finance records. Relying on a nationwide network of Populist Party members and other supporters of the charismatic, though controversial politician, fund-raising appeals found strong support outside the South.
Nearly 2,700 people from California to New York sent money to Mr. Duke, ranging from $1 to $500. Of the $35,000 in campaign donations Duke reported receiving in January, 5 percent came from seven Northwest and Western states, finance records show. And in the January reporting period, Duke listed more contributors from California than from Louisiana.
Louisiana campaign finance law became significantly stricter this year. Until Jan. 2, contributions under $250 were not reportable. Duke listed no 1988 contributions under that level. This year, the law required him to report everything of $1 or more.
The names of the leaders of Northwest white-supremacy groups, however, did not appear on Duke's January financial reports. While the controversial state congressman has publicly distanced himself from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), some supporters are not convinced.
``I think he's sort of a racist, in a way,'' says Leo Lindenbauer, a retired chiropractor of Spokane, Wash., who sent Duke $20. While Mr. Lindenbauer said he is not himself a racist, he welcomed Duke's Populist message and said, ``You can't get somebody who's got everything.''
What Duke does have is a platform that includes: opposition to affirmative action programs aimed at increasing the hiring of minorities, support for the repeal of the federal income tax, and a proposal to encourage welfare recipients to submit to sterilization.
As president of the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), Duke has been a figure in the national white-supremacy movement for 10 years.
In the late 1970s, he was the outspoken grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but he left the Klan in 1980 to form the NAAWP. Supporters say he left because he couldn't control Klan violence. Klansmen said they drove Duke out because he was stealing the Klan's mailing lists in order to build the NAAWP.
In June 1987, Duke announced he would seek the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. He predicted his anti-affirmative action stands would attract working-class whites.
When that bid faltered, Duke changed parties and accepted the presidential nomination of the Populist Party. He ran for president on the Populist ticket in 12 states last fall.
Earlier this year he entered a race for a vacant seat in the Louisiana House, seeking to represent the 99 percent white New Orleans suburb of Metairie, La. Running as a Republican this time, he defeated another Republican, John Treen, by 224 votes, taking 51 percent of the vote.
Tammy Knight, an NAAWP employee who helped Duke raise money for his campaign, said he relied heavily on his nationwide supporters in the Populist Party as well as NAAWP members.
Republican Party functionaries from Louisiana to the White House have worked to distance themselves from him, saying he is no Republican and an embarrassment to the party.
National GOP chairman Lee Atwater said that Duke is ``a political opportunist who is looking for any organization he can find to try to legitimize his views of racial and religious bigotry and intolerance.''
But contributors to Duke's campaign say his Klan days are far behind him.