Republicans Gave Generously to Colleagues in Tight Races
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Using dollars like bullets, Republican House members carefully targeted close elections and relied on their own campaign funds to help pick off Democrats on Election Day.
Their giving was in response to a blunt request from incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and it paid off.
An Associated Press analysis of 16 close House races, those decided by four percentage points or less, found 64 GOP incumbents donated $178,600 to their colleagues.
In each case, the Republican won.
The Republican largesse in the 16 contests was almost triple what the Democrats mustered - just $60,125, according to Federal Election Commission records reviewed by the AP.
The generosity, much of it in the last days of the campaign, was no accident. In early October, Gingrich sent a forceful memo to GOP colleagues in line for leadership posts or committee chairmanships, asking them to open their campaign war chests.
By that time, Republicans were well aware of the key races they had a chance to win in their effort to capture the House for the first time in 40 years.
″I didn’t view it as a strong-arm tactic, but there were some who were obviously being resistant, and they were being encouraged to give,″ said Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., an early and generous donor.
″The simple message was that all of us ranking types should do what we needed to do.″
While the GOP surge amounted to just a fraction of the total contributions involved in those races, the effort was crucial and calculated. That’s because in 11 of the 16 races, the Democratic candidate had entered the final three weeks of the campaign with more money.
″The level of sophistication was beyond anything we’ve seen before, and it was happening out of sight of all of us,″ said Ellen Miller, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors campaign spending.
″I think that’s why Washington insiders were so surprised by the magnitude of their victory. The organizational apparatus obviously worked,″ she said.
One GOP beneficiary was Californian Brian Bilbray, who unseated freshman Democrat Lynn Schenk in San Diego. While Bilbray raised slightly more than $500,000 from January through Oct. 19, Schenk amassed nearly $800,000 during the same period.
Fellow Republican candidates, however, gave $23,000 to Bilbray, three- quarters of it in the last two months of the campaign. Schenk, by contrast, got just $2,000 from fellow Democrats. Bilbray won by less than three percentage points.
Among other beneficiaries:
-Rick White, who received $7,500 down the stretch, and $9,500 altogether, in his successful effort to oust Democrat Maria Cantwell from her seat representing Seattle’s northern suburbs. Cantwell, a freshman, received only $2,000 from other Democrats.
-Andrea Seastrand, who held on to her seat in San Luis Obispo, Calif., with the help of $19,500 in donations from fellow Republicans. Challenger Walter Capps received just $4,500 from other Democrats.
-Jay Dickey of Arkansas, who foiled Democratic hopes of taking a House seat in President Clinton’s home state when he edged challenger Jay Bradford. Dickey received almost $26,000 from Republicans; Bradford got just $1,000 from Democrats.
-Frank Creamans, who toppled incumbent Ted Strickland in southeastern Ohio after getting $19,800 in donations from fellow Republicans.
While Gingrich is credited with orchestrating the Republicans’ coup, McCollum, who was unopposed in his re-election effort for a Florida House seat, was one of the first and most frequent to open his wallet, FEC records show.
In the 16 close contests examined by the AP, McCollum was the biggest giver, donating a total of $14,000 to 13 candidates through his re-election campaign. He also contributed $8,500 more through a political action committee he formed and aptly named ″Countdown to Majority.″
Christina Collins, director of McCollum’s PAC, said Countdown to Majority contributed $198,500 to 110 races.
Much of the cash came during the campaign’s final days, although McCollum contributed $6,000 in June and July.