Rep. David Dreier (R-La Verne), whose 33rd District includes several Southeast cities, ended his successful 1984 reelection campaign with more than $600,000 in unspent contributions.
Two years later, his war chest has grown to almost $1 million, more than that of any other congressman in the country and almost $900,000 more than either of his two opponents in the November election.
Dreier has amassed this huge sum by steadily collecting more than most of his colleagues and spending comparatively little to retain his seat in the Republican-dominated district. During the 18-month period ending June 30, Dreier raised $387,116 and spent $88,006, winding up with a total of $905,594, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Other congressmen raised more money during the same period. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Berkeley), who solicits donations nationwide from activists in anti-nuclear, civil rights and other causes, raised $821,510 during the 18 months. But he spent $794,926, mostly on direct-mail pleas for more money, leaving him with just $122,524 in the bank.
Dreier, 34, has been in Congress since 1980, when he ousted Democrat Jim Lloyd. His 33rd Congressional District, which includes most of the eastern San Gabriel Valley and extends southward to Hacienda Heights, Whittier and La Mirada, has nearly 12,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
Dreier's mid-1986 total surpassed the campaign funds of such notables as House Minority Leader Jim Wright (D-Texas) by more than $200,000, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) by more than $320,000. Rep. Fernand J. St Germain, (D-R. I.), chairman of the House Banking Committee, ranked second to Dreier among U. S. congressmen in campaign cash with nearly $740,000.
Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N. Y.) had less than $95,000 in his campaign treasury as of Aug. 20, but raised and spent about $2.3 million in the previous 20 months. Kemp has a separate political action committee called Campaign for Prosperity that raised and spent another $2.3 million, but had less than $100,000 at mid-year.
By comparison, Dreier is running in November against opponents who are almost penniless.
The Democratic nominee, Monty Hempel, said he has collected less than $10,000, barely enough to require that his contributions be reported to the Federal Election Commission. And Mike Noonan, who is running on the Peace and Freedom ticket, said he has raised less than $1,000.
Hempel finds the disparity in campaign financing between incumbent and challengers more than unfair. "It's obscene," he said.
Hempel said his own fund-raising efforts are hampered because potential contributors sense the futility of giving money to a candidate whose opponent has a fortune to spend. Nevertheless, Hempel said, he is finding enough donors to make him hopeful about the campaign.
"We raised $1,200 yesterday," Hempel boasted two weeks ago. "People are giving us money."
Of course, Hempel could raise $1,200 a day for two years and still fall short of the amount already available to Dreier.
Hempel said that it takes only about $200,000 for a congressional candidate to reach his constituency, and spending more amounts to campaign overkill, making it pointless for Dreier to have nearly $1 million.
But Dreier said there are at least three good reasons to have a sizable amount of cash on hand.
First, he said, having a huge war chest keeps Democratic leaders from searching out strong candidates to run against him. As a result, Dreier said, he has faced "not terribly strong opposition" in recent elections.
Second, he said, although his district now appears safe, congressional districts are reapportioned at least every 10 years and there always is the chance he will be thrown into a tough political battle. That happened in 1982, Dreier said, when reapportionment forced him to run against fellow Republican Wayne Grisham. Dreier said he started that campaign short of cash and has vowed never to get caught in that situation again.
Finally, Dreier said, there is the chance that he might want to run for another political office. In fact, he said, some of his supporters wanted him to run for the U. S. Senate this year.
Dreier said he has managed to raise campaign contributions without staging fund-raising events in Washington or conducting elaborate, computerized mail solicitations. He does write letters to contributors asking for more money, he said, but the effort is low-key. Some money comes from the special interests represented by political action committees, but most is from individual donors, a number of whom can be counted upon for $250 to $1,000 every year.
For example, Ira Norris, an Upland builder who has given $3,000 to Dreier since 1983, according to campaign reports to the Federal Election Commission, said he does not have to be prompted to donate. "Nobody woos me," he said. "I let David know when he's running that I'll contribute. He happens to be a nice guy, a caring guy. We need more congressmen like David."