Money, always a big factor in determining elections, has assumed
an even greater role as strong man in the 2000 contests - defeating
presidential hopefuls before Americans have cast a single primary
vote and winnowing the field of candidates even at the House and
So intense are the current demands of fund-raising that seasoned
politicians, including incumbents and big-name challengers, are
increasingly bowing out early, or deciding not to run at all.
New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R) provided the most
recent example of the winnowing power of money, announcing last week
that crushing fund-raising demands played a major part in her
decision not to run for a vacant US Senate seat. With that decision,
she joins a lengthening list of politicians - from incumbent Sen.
Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey to aspiring senator Frankie Sue
Del Papa, attorney general of Nevada - who cite the pressure to raise
money as one reason they quit before they even got started.
As Congress tomorrow takes up the issue of campaign-finance
reform, once again, some analysts say the problem now is not only the
influence of money, but also the intimidation factor of having to
raise so much from individual donors. The new level of
self-winnowing by potential candidates and the degree to which money
drives the process are hurting democracy, they say.
"In recent years, more and more experienced candidates are
choosing not to seek office, especially Senate seats, because the
burdens of fund-raising are too great," says Anthony Corrado, a
government professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and a
Criteria for candidates
One consequence is that voters get fewer quality candidates to
choose from, he says. Moreover, those who do end up on the ballot
have been recruited in large part because they have personal wealth
to back up their campaigns. The number of candidates for Congress
who spend $100,000 or more of their own money has increased
dramatically, Mr. Corrado adds.
"First and foremost, it's the wallet that's looked at," agrees
Charles Cook of the Cook Political Report.
In the 1998 election election cycle, the average winning Senate
candidate spent $4.7 million on radio and television advertisements,
direct mail, telemarketing, and other campaign costs. All of it must
be raised in $1,000 increments from individuals or $5,000 donations
from political action committees (PACs).
"It's a humbling process," says Jennifer Duffy, who tracks Senate
campaigns for the Cook Political Report. "You're calling total
strangers on the phone, introducing yourself, and then hitting them
up for a grant. …