Why Fund-Raising Scandals Ring Hollow for Horace Smith

Horace Smith doesn't see what all the hoopla is about over campaign finance in Washington.

Sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom. Presidential coffee with a Chinese arms merchant. Vice President Al Gore dialing for dollars from his White House office.

"It doesn't bother me at all," says Mr. Smith, a retired metal worker in Little Rock, Ark., who contributed $250 to the Democratic Party last year.

Despite almost daily revelations in the news media about questionable fund-raising tactics used during the 1996 election, many grass-roots Democratic donors like Smith say the fund-raising scandal will have no impact on their decision to make future donations.

Others, like life-long Democratic contributor Margaret Bubolz of East Lansing, Mich., aren't so sure.

Ms. Bubolz, a retired university professor who gave $250 last year, says the fund-raising scandal will make her think twice the next time she gets a call from the Democratic National Committee.

"I am not a wealthy person at all," she says. "We have been long-time supporters and we have given what we can, but when one hears of all these shenanigans with millions of dollars, you have to wonder."

Will she contribute again?

"I will probably give some," she says. "But I will think more carefully about it and choose more judiciously."

Smith and Bubolz are two Democratic contributors you won't read about in fund-raising scandal stories. Unlike the big money donors seeking access and influence in Washington, Smith and Bubolz gave what they could afford and expected nothing in return other than victory for Democrats on election day.

Theirs is a different kind of political contribution from those received from corporations and other special interests who have a direct stake in the workings of government.

"I do contribute money to the Democratic Party but I don't expect to go to the Lincoln bedroom," says Smith.

Richard Boxer is an active Democrat who says the ongoing scandal will not affect his future contributions to the Democratic Party.

The Milwaukee urologist gave $1,000 to the DNC and another $1,000 directly to the president's campaign.

"I think that the contributions that were made, at least from me and from the vast majority of others, are made for all the right reasons," he says. The right reasons to contribute are a belief in Democratic policies, Democratic candidates, or both, Dr. Boxer says.

He supports the idea of reforming the campaign finance system, and adds that the Democrats aren't the only party guilty of abuses. "The Republicans I am sure were not pure as the driven snow," he says. "Not that two wrongs make a right, but they did outgun the Democrats by $200 million."

The Republican Party raised $549 million in the last election compared with $332 million by the Democratic Party, according to Federal Election Commission statistics. It was the most expensive election in United States history.

"This whole brouhaha about the Democrats selling access, I don't understand why such a big deal is being made of that when the Republicans are just as blatant about selling access," says Margaret Dee of Media, Pa. Ms. Dee contributed $102 to the DNC. "When you look at it, the Republicans raised $500 million and the Democrats raised $300 million, so who is doing more of it?"

Loren Peele of Vista, Calif., says he gave $243 to the DNC and will contribute again despite the tempest over the fund-raising scandal.

"Personally it doesn't bother me. I think it's been done all through the years," Mr. Peele says, even boarding campaign contributors in the White House. "I don't know who Lincoln had [in] but he probably had someone too," Peele says.

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