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Party Goals for Raising Money: 'Hard' and Fast


WASHINGTON — Standing under a full moon, Cher headlined a concert Tuesday in Camden, N.J., drawing 2,500 people to write checks totaling $1 million to the Democratic National Committee.

On Wednesday, James Taylor serenaded 900 donors at a barbecue in Boston, where about $1 million more was raised for the Democrats.

And for the piece de resistance, a collection of performers that could be outdone only by the Grammys will gather tonight at the 6,000-seat Radio City Music Hall to try to push the week's take to $7 million.

Jon Bon Jovi; Sheryl Crow; Lenny Kravitz; k.d. lang; Bette Midler; Macy Gray; Paul Simon; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and Don Henley, Glenn Frey & Timothy B. Schmit will all pick up the microphone for Al Gore.

The weeklong race for "hard" campaign money, which is mostly what the Democrats were after, is just the newest chapter in the long saga of record-breaking fund-raising for November's elections.

While it may seem like both political parties are awash in money--indeed, they are--they are also confronted with the fact that in politics, not all money is created equal. Because of a complicated formula embedded in the election laws, the parties need a certain amount of "hard" money--which comes only from individuals and in chunks of $20,000 or less--to be able to spend their "soft" money--huge donations from individuals, corporations and unions--on advertising in the final crunch before the voters go to the polls.

But at this home-stretch stage of the money chase, neither of the parties has enough of the hard stuff, party officials said.

"We never are going to have enough," said Jennifer Backus, spokeswoman for the DNC.

"The emphasis is on raising hard dollars," echoed Fred Meyer, chairman of Victory 2000, the Republican National Committee's money-raising arm. "We need to get as many hard dollars as we can."

In fact, the hard money crunch, which the DNC and some other Democratic Party committees have felt particularly acutely, is caused in part because these committees are swimming in more "soft" money than ever before.

By the end of June, the Republican and Democratic parties--including their congressional campaign committees--had raised a total of more than half a billion dollars to elect their candidates, according to the Campaign Study Group, a Springfield, Va.-based campaign finance firm. That total--collected from individuals, corporations, unions and interest groups--is 25% more money than the parties raised over the same period in 1996.

Since July, the last time all party committees were required to file reports with the Federal Election Commission, the parties have raised tens of millions of dollars more. On top of that, the presidential campaigns of Vice President Gore and Republican nominee George W. Bush have received almost $68 million each in public funds from the federal government.

But, as this week's events demonstrate, the mad dash for campaign cash is likely to continue right up until election day.

This unprecedented money flow has kept political ads running for longer periods, and both parties are promising their most aggressive efforts in decades to get voters to the polls on Nov. 7.

"The money is very important," said Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and an expert on campaign finance. "It has provided them the means of conducting permanent campaigns."

Ironically, the influx of large soft-money donations has put the onus on the parties to collect more checks in smaller amounts from individuals. The law requires that, for most campaign expenditures, the national parties must spend two hard dollars for every soft dollar they spend. The parties can--and do--get around this requirement to some extent by funneling money through their state party organizations to pay for advertising time, but the states also require a hard-soft match, at a ratio more favorable to the parties.

DNC Falls Behind 1996 Hard Money Pace

As of early last month, the DNC was lagging in its hard money accounts--$17 million behind where it had been at that stage of the last presidential campaign, in part because of the disputed primary between Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley. Current figures for the DNC are not available, but a fund-raiser in Los Angeles last month raised $5.3 million, mostly in hard dollars, and the party has engaged in steady fund-raising since then.

Backus stressed that her party's finances are in good shape and attributed the earlier shortfall to the other claims on Democratic donors' dollars--including an aggressive direct-mail effort by the New York Senate campaign of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Even the Republicans, who have done much better so far at raising hard dollars, are hunting for more this week. Texas Gov. Bush has attended fund-raisers in Southern California, aiming in part to raise hard money for his party.

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