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Wednesday, October 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Nation/World

Political Fund-Raising Often More Talk Than Action Candidates Boast Of Big Bankrolls But Soon Find Themselves Scraping Bottom

Richard Keil Associated Press

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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