More than halfway through his first year in Congress, Rep. George Nethercutt still is raising money to retire debt racked up during his campaign last year when he unseated House Speaker Tom Foley.
Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show most of the Spokane Republican’s contributors were individuals, although the American Medical Association’s political action committee led a modest list of corporate and trade association donors.
Nethercutt raised more than $142,000 in the first half of this year, his FEC reports show. Almost 70 percent of it went to a committee dedicated to retiring the campaign debt, leaving Nethercutt only $43,000 to spend on getting re-elected.
So far, no one has stepped forward to challenge the freshman congressman next year.
Nethercutt’s 1994 campaign committee still owes $34,700, including $9,700 of a $27,000 loan Nethercutt himself made to his campaign.
Campaign watchers say more candidates than usual ran up debts during last year’s election races.
According to the citizens interest group Common Cause, freshman lawmakers of both parties have repaid more than $1 million in personal loans to their campaigns. The largest debt among House newcomers belonged to Ohio Republican Frank Cremeans, whose 1994 campaign has repaid $174,000 in personal loans.
Alex Benes, an official with another watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, said he is not surprised by Nethercutt’s debt except maybe that it is not larger.
“Given that he beat the speaker of the House, (Nethercutt’s is) not a huge debt,” said Benes.
This year’s House freshman class raised $133,186, on average, in the first part of this year, putting Nethercutt in the middle among his firstterm colleagues in fund raising, according to Common Cause.
The top freshman fund-raiser collected more than three times what Nethercutt reported. Rep. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican who also is retiring a large debt from his 1994 race, had raised almost half a million dollars through June 30.
Most of Nethercutt’s contributions this year - both for last year’s and next year’s races - have come from individuals in Washington state. Political action committees have given $42,500 to the 1994 campaign, just less than half the total given to help retire the debt.
However, Nethercutt’s committee for next year’s race has received a far greater portion of its money from individuals. Less than a fifth of the re-election money has come from PACs.
The donations have come about equally from fund-raisers and through mailed solicitations, said Spokane attorney Lynn Watts, who has helped organize fund-raising events for Nethercutt and is a contributor herself.
Individuals who have given to Nethercutt range from small-time contributors, who say they just like his politics, to corporate executives, some of whom already have given the maximum $2,000 each to the campaign.
Spokane retiree Lola Jacobs is one of the smaller contributors. Her February contribution of $25 brought to $230 the amount she has contributed to Nethercutt’s campaign.
“I think he’s honest,” Jacobs said of Nethercutt. “I knew his parents and they are very good people, and I really don’t like Tom Foley at all.”
Nearly half of the contributions to Nethercutt’s two committees have come from donors giving less than $200.
But Nethercutt is not without large donors. His biggest PAC contributor so far this year is the American Medical Association, which gave him $5,000 to help pay off the 1994 debt.
By law, PACs can give no more than $10,000 to each candidate - $5,000 for the primary election and $5,000 for the general election.
Jim Stacy, an AMA spokesman in Washington, D.C., said the organization does not publicly discuss its contributions.
Corporate donors also include those with interests in legislation considered by appropriations subcommittees Nethercutt sits on, as well as companies with local ties, such as Boeing, which gave $2,000 toward helping retire last year’s debt.
Most major Spokane industries appear on Nethercutt’s funding report. Reynolds Metals and Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. each donated, as did the Forest Industries PAC and Plum Creek Management, a large timber concern.
International Paper PAC helped Nethercutt retire his debt by $500, while Weyerhaeuser’s PAC gave the same amount toward the 1996 campaign.
Nethercutt’s position on the appropriations national security subcommittee may be what garnered him contributions from some large defense contractors. Naval shipbuilder Tennaco’s PAC gave him $1,000, while defense contractors Textron and Allied Signal each weighed in with $500. General Dynamics, another large defense company, gave Nethercutt $500 toward next year’s campaign.
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