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Shifting Funds Signal End Is Near

Money: So-called safe incumbents are pouring thousands into the coffers of candidates whose victories aren't as certain, all in an effort to keep the GOP's hold on Congress.

November 03, 1996|GEBE MARTINEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In these final days before Tuesday's election, Orange County Rep. Christopher Cox has spent hours on the Internet, checking the status of Republican congressional candidates in desperate need of cash.

By week's end, the Newport Beach Republican had shipped about $70,000 to candidates and national party committees. That was on top of the almost $95,000 he had already given from his campaign fund to help Republicans keep control of the House.

This is the "feeding frenzy"--the final two weeks before an election when hundreds of thousands of dollars shift from the campaign accounts of presumably "safe" incumbents, including Republicans like Cox and Ron Packard (R-Oceanside), to "endangered" members or newcomers with a chance to win another seat for the party.

And like the legendary fund-raising prowess of Los Angeles County Democratic Congressmen Henry A. Waxman and Howard L. Berman, who for so long helped keep the Democrats in power on Capitol Hill, now Cox, Packard and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) are spending whatever and wherever they can to help retain the Republican majority in Congress.

Why? The answer is simple: power.

Packard, fielding last-minute pleas from fellow Republicans, emptied his campaign wallet of almost $100,000 and then went dialing for dollars after having his arm twisted by House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"The speaker called me two weeks ago and said, 'Ron, we need to have you raise $100,000 in less than a week,' " Packard said.

Unaccustomed to that high level of fund-raising--Packard is from a safe Republican district that straddles Orange and San Diego counties--he called on his favorite donors and said, "I don't need the money, but if you have any money left over, we [the party] need it. . . ." Packard delivered $160,000.

With some political prognosticators giving Democrats an even-money chance to regain control of the House, the three Orange County conservative Republicans and colleagues across the country are fighting to keep the reins of power that eluded the GOP for 40 years.

Should Republicans fail, Cox's status as a top member of the House leadership and Packard's influential position as a "cardinal"--an appropriations subcommittee chairman--will be buried in the political rubble.

Even for Royce, a strong party loyalist now in his second term, the loss of the House to Democrats would mean delayed ambition.

"As vice chairman of recruitment [of Republican challengers], I feel very strongly that we need to offset the $35-million advertising buy of organized labor," said Royce, who has sent his money to new candidates and to first-termers who are among the most endangered incumbents.

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Said Packard: "I know when I got my call from the speaker's office, they let me know that I'm a chairman of an important subcommittee and for that reason I need to put forth a little greater effort. That's a good incentive, to be honest with you."

But not all of Orange County's congressmen are busy raising money for the national GOP team. Some of them need cash infusions.

For example, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who faces a strong challenge from Democrat Loretta Sanchez, found himself among the politically needy after an unrealistic presidential bid drained much of his money.

As of Friday, Dornan had not officially reported receiving any funds from the National Republican Congressional Committee, but he reportedly received $60,000 from the committee in addition to $1,000 donations from Cox, Royce, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Rocklin) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon).

Rep. Jay C. Kim (R-Diamond Bar), whose campaign committee showed a $283,163 debt in mid-October, has made only token financial donations to the national party.

Loans to congressional races by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) totaled $14,000 as of Oct. 16--a fraction of the more than $39,000 he has spent on state and local races, including $15,000 to aid state Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach).

Still, the extraordinary funding effort of both Democratic and Republican interests is unprecedented--exceeding the 1994 effort when the GOP's "contract with America" led to the control of the House and Senate, said Larry Makinson, of the independent Center for Responsive Politics.

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"You may give to someone in Georgia and it may end up in the hands of a Californian. It helps out an endangered colleague or newcomer to Congress, and it also buys influence for the person who gives the money," Makinson said.

Donations to the national party war chest are easier to make because they are not limited to $1,000, as are the direct contributions to candidates. This so-called "soft money" to party committees is then redistributed where the need is greatest.

The frantic fund-raising appeal recently mounted by Gingrich, for example, resulted in a television ad urging voters to retain a Republican Congress to keep President Clinton in check.

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