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CAMPAIGN 2000

Lieberman's Fund-Raising as Inclusive as His Politics

Money: Senator helped found centrist PAC that solicits from nontraditional sources for Democrats, such as insurers and drug firms.

August 09, 2000|ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman, who for years has tried to move his party toward the political center, has also worked to expand its base of financial donors.

Lieberman is co-founder of a political action committee called the New Democrat Network that raises money for Democratic candidates from nontraditional sources.

"The new Democrat approach has been to unite the base and expand into a new pool of voters and supporters," said Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network. The PAC has raised $5.5 million this election cycle, and "Joe has done a great job of balancing traditional Democratic interests while expanding out into a new pool of donors," Rosenberg said.

This mix also is reflected in contributions to his own campaign for reelection to the Senate from Connecticut. His most generous donors are lawyers, pro-Israel givers and a donor category composed of banks and insurance, investment and real estate firms. His 2000 Senate campaign has received more than $200,000 from each of those donor groups since 1994.

An analysis of campaign finance records released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics also showed that Lieberman has received more contributions this election cycle from insurance companies than any other senator. And he ranks third among Senate recipients in contributions from drug companies, an industry Vice President Al Gore has repeatedly attacked during the campaign.

"He's got more in common with [GOP nominee George W.] Bush than he does with Gore," said Larry Makinson, director of the center, a Washington-based organization that studies campaign finance reports.

The Gore campaign countered that Lieberman should not be defined by the sources of his campaign money.

"Unlike Bush, he supports a prescription drug benefit under Medicare [that is] opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, and as part of the ticket he will fight for one," said Gore spokesman Douglas Hattaway. "The issue is whose side you're on and what you're fighting for."

Businesses accounted for three-quarters of the campaign contributions Lieberman has received since his last election, while labor union donations represented 11%, according to the center.

"His support from the business community doesn't imply that he's not a good Democrat who is right on the issues the party cares about," said one Democratic strategist. "In fact, in many ways he has shown other Democrats how to package themselves in an appealing manner for business."

It is unclear how some of Lieberman's financial backers will respond to the rhetoric of the ticket he just joined.

At an event earlier this summer in New Britain, Conn., Gore stressed his opposition to some of the industry groups that are among Lieberman's top donors.

"For all my public service, I've stood up to the big drug companies, the big oil companies, the insurance companies and the HMOs. That's what I'm doing now in this campaign--and that's exactly what I'll do as president of the United States," Gore said.

Gore reiterated Tuesday his plan to end the days of unlimited donations from corporations and wealthy individuals.

"Joe Lieberman and I have fought together for campaign finance reform, and that will be the very first bill of the Gore-Lieberman administration," he said.

Indeed, in 1997, Lieberman told the Hartford Courant that he would no longer solicit so-called soft money--huge and largely unrestricted donations from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals--for the New Democrat Network. Lieberman has also strongly criticized the fund-raising excesses of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.

In 1994, the Courant reported that Lieberman had garnered $23,000 in campaign donations from 15 students, including a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old, in the previous two years.

Minors can legally donate to a political campaign if the funds are their own and they decide to give "knowingly and voluntarily." But campaign finance experts say that some affluent donors exceed federal contribution limits by contributing in the names of their children.

At least some of Lieberman's youthful donors were the children of friends and longtime financial backers. They said their children had donated on their own and with their own money. A spokesman for Lieberman said at the time that the campaign had no reason to believe otherwise.

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Times staff writer Alan C. Miller contributed to this story.

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