Sen. Inouye tops list for out-of-state contributors
By Carl Weiser
Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON Thirty-eight senators, mostly from lightly populated states, get the majority of their contributions from people out of state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington research group.
Hawai'i Democrat Dan Inouye topped the list, with 98 percent of his contributions from outside the state from 1997 to 2001.
Only contributions from individuals of more than $200 were included, because smaller donations don't have to be detailed.
While Congress recently passed the most sweeping reform of how campaigns are paid for, the bill does not address out-of-state donations. An earlier version of the bill limited out-of-state contributions, "out of some concern that the folks a person directly represents ought to have a greater voice," said Common Cause's Seth Amgott. But it wasn't a top priority.
Watchdogs such as Democracy 21's Fred Wert-heimer say that as races become more expensive there likely will be even more out-of-state money poured into them, especially in smaller states.
Senators turn to out-of-state donors for a variety of reasons.
Inouye's chief of staff, Jennifer Sabas, said Inouye is not up for re-election until 2004, so it wouldn't be fair to local and state candidates to compete for the same donors in Hawai'i.
"He does not want to cannibalize the pot," Sabas said. After his last election in 1998, "he gave us very strict instructions: No fund-raising for Dan Inouye until this (2002 election) cycle is over."
When Inouye does hold fund-raisers in Hawai'i, such as his major 1998 event at a Honolulu hotel, tickets are usually $100 each. That means they wouldn't be listed individually on the reports his campaign committee files at the Federal Election Commission.
Sen. Daniel Akaka received only 27 percent of his contributions from out of state. Akaka was re-elected in 2000 and raised $630,346 from 1997 to 2002.
Inouye raised $2,050,089 during the same period and was re-elected in 1998.
Jim Wang, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo, said it isn't unusual for U.S. senators to attract out-of-state contributions. Powerful senators such as Inouye would naturally receive more money from outside sources, Wang said.
"As a U.S. senator, they deal with all kinds of things that affect the nation as a whole, not just affairs of the state, so they will deal with all sorts of interest groups."
Because Inouye has been in the Senate longer than Akaka, he can attract more out-of-state contributions, Wang said.
"Inouye is better-known and serves on a lot of important committees, so in that sense he has much more wider contact and dealings with other people," Wang said.
The senators who get the most out-of-state money tend to be senior members of Congress with a national presence.
Inouye, for instance, is chairman of the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Low population limits the amount of money available in states such as Hawai'i, Delaware and North Dakota. And the major donors, especially for Democrats, are often in big cities such as New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles.
Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is the Senate majority leader and the major political counterweight to President Bush. But he comes from a predominantly Republican state.
"The only way we can begin to match the opposition is to draw on the generosity of people from around the country," Daschle has said. During the last six years he has gotten 85 percent of his individual donations from out of state, seventh-highest in the Senate.
Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, held 41 fund-raisers last year for his 2002 re-election campaign four in his home state of Delaware. Of the $2.5 million the Democrat has raised, more than $3 of every $4 comes from out-of-state contributors ranking him 11th-highest.
Senators who get a large proportion of individual donations from out of state complain that many small donations aren't counted.
Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, gets thousands of contributions from fellow North Dakotans that are too small to be reported, said his communications director, Laurie Boeder.
"While he welcomes support from people around the country, it is the contributions of North Dakotans and the concerns of North Dakotans that matter most to him," she said.
Similarly, Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate committee that writes tax laws, has gotten donations from all 56 counties in Montana, but most are small compared with the $1,000 donations from out-of-staters.
During the past six months of 2001, for example, 72 percent of his donors were from Montana, but they accounted for only 28 percent of his money, said spokesman Bill Lombardi.
Many of the senators turn to the same fund-raisers who know the major lawyers and business executives in their city.
"I just know who will give $1,000 to a Democrat and who won't," said former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who organized a fundraiser for Biden last year in Austin.
Miami developer Michael Adler said asking Floridians to contribute money to a senator from North Dakota or Delaware is difficult but honorable work.
"What I ask them to do is go out and affect the world and our country, and not just let it affect us," he said. "The people who are elected are going to have a major impact on the quality of life for them and their children. As such, they should want to elect highly honorable people."
Advertiser staff writer Curtis Lum contributed to this report.