What's gotten the nation's attention so far, of course, is Bush's breathtaking pile of campaign cash, which will likely break the $60 million mark by the end of the current reporting period on September 30. But Bush's feat, though prodigious, is just a small part of the story. The two parties and their House and Senate campaign committees raised $57.3 million in unregulated soft money by June 30, more than twice as much as at the same point in the last presidential cycle, according to the FEC. (Unless otherwise indicated, data in this story come directly from the FEC or from analyses of the FEC data by public interest groups.) The 435 members of the House pulled in $77.9 million by June 30, half again as much as House members had raised at the same point in the last election cycle. And this is just the start of the political season. In 1996 total spending on all campaigns for federal offices totaled $2.1 billion, according to estimates by Public Campaign. For 2000, if current trends hold, the total could be $3.5 billion.
Driving the process is the fact that the regulatory breakdown coincides with a white-hot political year. Not only is the presidency up for grabs but for the first time since the fifties (not counting 1994, which was a surprise), control of the House is at stake. Besides that, there is an outside chance that Democrats will win back the Senate, meaning that key Senate races--in New York, California, Michigan, Florida and elsewhere--will be vastly expensive duels. At the presidential level, Bush's fundraising has set the pace for the pack. By June 30, when candidates last reported, Bush, Gore, Bradley and the also-ran Republicans had pulled in $105 million (of which Bush pocketed $37 million), a 75 percent increase over the $60 million raised by candidates at the same point in the 1996 cycle. Among the three presidential candidates leading the money chase (not counting Steve Forbes, who is largely financing his campaign with his own wealth), roughly 75 percent of their total has been raised in the form of $1,000 checks, the maximum allowed under federal law, and upward of 90 percent in donations of $200 or more. Much of it is bundled into great wads by leading law firms and financial services companies like the Texas law firm Vinson & Elkins, which funneled $184,850 to Bush, and Goldman Sachs, which bundled large sums to Bush, Gore and Bradley. Bush raised nearly $1 million each in just two ZIP codes--75205 and 75225, the affluent Dallas suburbs of Park Cities and Preston Hollow--while Gore and Bradley are cleaning up in 10021 on Manhattan's East Side.
Working at corralling cash for Bush is virtually the entire Republican Party establishment, led by most of the GOP governors, state party machines, the Washington lobbyist and trade association network and the remnants of President Bush's old Team 100--the 1988 and 1992 soft-money donors who gave $100,000 to the GOP. More than a hundred "Pioneers" have raised $100,000 in hard money for George W. Bush: Frederick Webber, head of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, is lining up CEOs and executives in the chemical, oil and gas industries, and other Pioneers run the gamut from CEOs of firms like Johnson & Johnson, CSX Transportation and Texas Utilities to investors, lawyers, doctors, lobbyists and high-tech executives.
Gore, who raised more than $17 million through June, and Bradley, who raised nearly $12 million, are following a similar path. Gore's donors are led by lawyers and lobbyists, securities and investment executives, and the media, telecommunications and high-tech sectors. Bradley, who is making progressive noises, counts as his leading backers the longtime Wall Street allies who bonded with him during his eighties years on the Senate Finance Committee. Nearly one-seventh of his money has come from the financial services industry, often nicely bundled: $80,500 from Lehman Brothers, $74,150 from Citigroup, $65,000 from Goldman Sachs, $56,500 from Merrill Lynch, $55,750 from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and $51,600 from J.P. Morgan. Thomas Byrne, an investment banker, matter-of-factly explains the preponderance of Wall Street types among Bradley's donors. "People who make $1 million [a year] are generally more willing to write you a $1,000 check than people who make $50,000," he told the Newark Star-Ledger. "That's just a fact of life."
So frenzied is the money chase that more than 1,600 individuals have contributed to multiple candidates, often across party lines, according to the Campaign Study Group, which specializes in campaign finance research. Leading the pack is New York real estate developer Lew Rudin, who gave $1,000 apiece to Gore, Bush, Bradley, Dan Quayle and Elizabeth Dole. Similarly, Ivan Seidenberg, chairman of Bell Atlantic, gave $1,000 to both Bush and Gore and another $1,000 to McCain, who happens to chair the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications. Joe Manko, who chairs Bradley's Pennsylvania campaign, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he isn't surprised by the practice of giving to multiple candidates. "You can only give a thousand, so you cover your rear end," he said.