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California and the West

Group to Add $1 Million to Boxer Campaign

Finances: EMILY's List helps raise donations in unprecedented effort by PAC. Senator says she is not beholden to group.

October 26, 1998|ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Among the millions of dollars poured into Sen. Barbara Boxer's reelection campaign by lawyers, unions, Hollywood moguls and business people, the $5,000 check this spring from a Washington, D.C., abortion-rights group was negligible.

It was the only direct contribution that EMILY's List, founded to promote women's issues and candidates, has given to Boxer. And the group is prohibited by federal law from donating much more than that to the senator's campaign.

But behind the scenes, the group has become the key financial cog in Boxer's down-to-the-wire campaign against Republican Matt Fong and is well on its way toward raising an unprecedented $1 million for Boxer--largely through a practice known as "bundling."

Intent on solidifying recent political gains by women, EMILY's List has sent out hundreds of thousands of political mailers around the country, collected mail-in contributions and passed them en masse to candidates who support abortion rights and women's issues.

Campaign-reform activists have sought unsuccessfully to ban bundling, arguing that it gives the bundlers too much influence over the politicians and allows them to skirt limits on contributions.

"It's a classic problem. You risk having the officeholder become beholden to the group that's accumulating all this money," said Craig Holman, project director at the Center for Governmental Studies, a private think tank in Los Angeles.

Holman was an author of Proposition 208, a 1996 initiative that, among other restrictions, forbade the bundling of contributions in state campaigns. After a brief implementation, the measure was struck down in federal court and is now on appeal.

A similar ban was discussed at the federal level as part of campaign reform proposals in recent years but ultimately died under pressure from groups such as EMILY's List.

Boxer was not disappointed. Asked where her campaign would be without the support of EMILY's List, the senator said with a laugh: "A million dollars poorer. They have been phenomenal."

Her campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, is even more blunt, crediting the group for helping elect Boxer in 1992. "She might not even be in the Senate without EMILY's List," the aide said.

Boxer, buoyed by her status as an incumbent, had already raised more money by October than she had during her entire 1992 run for the Senate. Her $13 million, compared with Fong's $8.8 million, has allowed her to air a series of hard-hitting commercials, and she has regained a narrow edge in recent polling.

Relying heavily on direct-mail solicitations and telemarketing, Boxer will raise up to $15 million by the Nov. 3 election, aides say, promising to make this one of the most expensive Senate races in history.

EMILY's List, an acronym that stands for "Early Money Is Like Yeast (it makes the dough rise)," was founded in 1985 by IBM heiress Ellen Malcolm.

With a war chest of $5.7 million for this election, the group boasts that it is now collecting and disbursing more in donations than any other political action committee.

It has sent out several dozen political mailers to 45,000 potential donors, pushing particularly hard this year for Boxer and two other Democratic senators facing tough reelections--Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois and Patty Murray of Washington.

One recent EMILY's List mailer--headlined "Pro-Choice Democratic Women Candidates Urgently Need Our Support!"--led off with a photo of Boxer and a synopsis of her Senate race. "Make your check payable to Boxer for Senate," it implored.

Boxer's filings list only one contribution from the group--a $5,000 gift representing half the maximum that political action committees are allowed to give under federal law. But through the money it passes on, the group will likely raise more for Boxer than for any other candidate, said EMILY's List spokeswoman Stephanie Cohen. At last count, the group had raised $737,000 and expects to top $1 million from 10,000 donors, according to the committee's officials and the Boxer campaign.

EMILY's List feted Boxer and other Bay Area politicians last week at a raucous fund-raiser in San Francisco, complete with conga dancing and talk of record-setting donation levels. "We are not going to let the right wing defeat Barbara Boxer!" Malcolm, the group's president, told a roaring crowd.

"Barbara Boxer has become a poster child for EMILY's List," said Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., a nonpartisan think tank that analyzes campaign data.

A million dollars is an unheard of sum to be bundled by a political action committee for a single candidate, campaign finance experts said.

"Yes, you're allowed to do it," said Makinson at the Center for Responsive Politics. "But . . . you don't want so much money going to a candidate from any one group that they feel beholden to them. EMILY's List goes way over that limit, so does this follow the spirit of the law? No, it doesn't in my opinion."

Contributions Reflect Women Voters

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