When he kicked off his presidential campaign, Pete Wilson boasted he had $15 million in pledges. Two months and $6 million later, he was gone. Phil Gramm talked of being the first to raise $20 million. Don’t bet on it.
This year’s crop of Republican candidates is finding that bragging about a big bankroll can create high expectations - and big disappointments. The now-orphaned strategists for Wilson’s campaign learned that lesson the hard way.
“The expectation, even before we talked about the pledges, was that fund-raising would be a great strength of ours,” Wilson spokesman Dan Schnur said.
“But we, as staffers and advisers, failed to recognize that the pledge would be a … large part of the coverage.”
Despite his $15 million in promised contributions, Wilson had collected less than $6 million when the California governor abruptly folded his campaign last week.
Gramm opened the big-money sweepstakes by telling supporters on Day One of his campaign that he had “the most reliable friend that you can have in American politics - ready money.” The Texas senator promised to reach $20 million by year’s end.
Now, he and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander - another to take the $20 million pledge - are laboring to meet that benchmark.
Alexander is less than halfway there. Gramm has raised $14.2 million, and transferred another $4.8 million from his Senate campaign fund. But his spigot has slowed to less than $1 million a month since July.
“Everybody has a big first quarter, after their announcement,” Gramm spokesman Gary Koops said. “Once you’re through your easy contributors … you have to branch out, building a broader donor base, and that can be hard.”
Koops predicted Gramm will raise his $20 million by early 1996 if not sooner.
Perhaps more disappointing for Gramm is that although he has spent nearly $15 million, he is mired in the single digits in nearly every GOP presidential poll, far behind frontrunner Bob Dole.
In addition to attracting popular support, Dole has quietly amassed $19 million in contributions, zooming past Gramm.
“Too often, at this point, money is projected as the equivalent of support, which may or may not be true,” warned Steve Salmore, a Rutgers University professor who studies campaign finance issues.
It appears to be a situation in which the public mood and the candidates’ needs are at cross-purposes.
A recent survey found the public increasingly disenchanted with the connections between special interest money and politics.
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