In Advance of Campaign, Dole PAC Team Busy in Key Primary States
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Before beginning his presidential bid this year, Republican front-runner Bob Dole had a spring training of sorts that didn’t cost his campaign a penny.
The money for strategists, travel and even a mailing list came from a political action committee Dole founded years ago to help elect Republicans to state and local offices.
Federal election law bars PACs like Dole’s from giving more than $5,000 in money or services to a candidate during an election cycle. But sometimes what benefits local Republicans can end up being helpful to a presidential hopeful as well.
Records reviewed by The Associated Press show that in 1994 alone, Dole’s Campaign America PAC spent more than $168,000 to place workers and finance activities in Iowa, Texas, California and Pennsylvania, important states in next year’s presidential primary season.
The figure covers everything from salaries and travel expenses of strategists to the purchase of a membership list from the Iowa Republican party. Eight Campaign America strategists have since shifted to Dole’s presidential campaign, including fund-raiser Jo-Anne Coe, finance expert Royal Roth and national field director Scott Matter.
Earlier this year, the AP found that another of Dole’s organizations, his tax-exempt Better America foundation, was spending money on items useful for a presidential bid _ including a poll, issues papers and a TV ad that prominently featured Dole. Dole subsequently closed down the foundation.
Campaign America, a so-called ``leadership PAC″ to benefit GOP candidates, itself once ran afoul of campaign finance laws by trying to assist an earlier Dole presidential bid. The Federal Election Commission fined the PAC $12,000 in 1993 to settle charges Dole’s PAC had improperly assisted his 1988 campaign by about $42,000.
Critics wonder whether Dole is crossing the line again.
``The question is, what were these people doing out there in the field,″ said Ellen Miller, director of the nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics, which studies campaign finance issues in Washington. ``The evidence suggests that Campaign America was nothing more than a presidential campaign slush fund.″
Dole campaign spokesman Nelson Warfield says the PAC has ``maintained a bright-line rule that strictly separated it from any Dole campaign activities.″
FEC records show considerable overlap between the campaign and the PAC, both in staff and operations.
For instance, Campaign America and the presidential campaign use many of the same consultants and contractors, right down to the same printing shop in Des Moines, Iowa. And Dole’s campaign recently paid the PAC more than $29,000 for office furniture.
So does it cross the line?
``That’s a proper question to ask, but I can’t tell you the number of times we got calls from the national office telling us to make sure we were comporting with the FEC law,″ said Brian Berry, a former Campaign America worker in Austin, Texas.
``We trained people with a `fear of God’ approach _ the message was, `you make a mistake here, and you hurt Bob Dole, you hurt Campaign America, and you hurt the cause you’re trying to help,‴ he said.
Berry said the PAC’s focus in 1994 wasn’t to help Dole but rather ``concentrating on close races, helping Republicans get elected″ at the state and local level.
For his efforts, Berry was paid $37,000 in salary and expenses in 1994. Berry shifted briefly to Dole’s campaign this spring but has since left.
Sal Russo, a Sacramento-based Republican consultant, said there is a thin, often-blurry line between permissible PAC activities _ such as party-building or making donations to state and local candidates _ and wooing potential organizers and supporters for a presidential bid.
He cited the example of Brian Lungren, a Dole supporter in California who received $24,000 in salary and expenses from the PAC between June 1994 and February 1995 and later worked briefly for Dole’s presidential bid.
``If Brian was doing the PAC’s business, that still helps (Dole) in anything he decides to do in the future,″ Russo noted. ``Obviously, there are lots of things you can do ... to make yourself a better presidential candidate, like going out and giving money to these guys. Then, they get behind you later.″
Records show that Dole’s PAC provided more than $625,000 to Republicans running in federal races around the country last year, and another $185,000 to candidates running in state and local contests.
Dole announced a month ago that he was turning control of the PAC over to former Vice President Dan Quayle so he can spend more time on his presidential campaign.