Washington Politicians Outfinance Rivals - They May Need To

Article excerpt

PUBLIC regard for politicians may be close to historic lows, but the capacity of Washington incumbents to raise money for reelection is headed for a new high.

"The gap between incumbents and challengers is growing ever wider," says Ellen Miller, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. "For challengers, this means having to raise more of {their} personal money than ever before."

According to data released last week by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the average incumbent already has raised $245,037 for this year's House race; the average challenger, $47,704. (See chart, Page 18.) The gap for Senate races is even larger: The average incumbent senator had raised $1.4 million more than the average challenger as of March 31.

"What this is saying is that we will set spending records yet again," Ms. Miller says. Incumbents are seeing an increase from "economically interested sources," especially from professional and industry groups affected by health-care legislation, she says.

In the next few months, businesses, political action committees (PACs), and large individual contributors will be taking a hard look at the prospects for challengers in the 1994 campaign. In the race for big-ticket contributions, however, newcomers carry a heavy handicap.

The Omaha-based agricultural giant ConAgra, for example, has already contributed about 60 percent of what it expects to give in the '94 election cycle - about $200,000, spokesman Dick Gady says. In Nebraska's Senate race, the company has funded the incumbent, Sen. Robert Kerrey (D), despite a stronger affinity for the views of the Republican challenger, Jan Stoney.

"The incumbent serves on the Agriculture {Nutrition and Forestry} Committee, where a lot of decisions affect us. We have common interests," Mr. Gady says.

"On the other hand," he adds, "the Republican candidate {Jan Stoney} is more philosophically aligned toward business. This may be a race where we find it necessary to help both candidates articulate their views."

Stoney campaign officials hope they will be able to persuade such contributors that her candidacy is viable - and a key measure of viability is fund-raising. …