Money matters in Legislature races

Murkowski, Knowles battle for dollars and votes

Posted: Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her challenger, Democrat Tony Know-les, are locked in a battle for her U.S. Senate seat, a battle in which money and the access to it are likely to play a critical role.

Both candidates are actively pursuing dollars as fast as they are votes.

Under federal law, candidates for Congress must report contributions to the Federal Election Commission. The latest campaign finance information available from the two campaigns indicates Murkowski has raised about $2.42 million in contributions and other income, while Knowles has garnered $1.76 million. Meanwhile, the two campaigns have spent roughly the same. Murkowski has reported $882,000 in net operating expenses thus far in her campaign, compared to the $861,000 reported by Knowles.

Murkowski continues to maintain the largest war chest, with cash remaining on hand of $1.5 million to Knowles' $893,000.

According to the FEC filing summary provided by his campaign office, Knowles has received $34,000 from Democratic Party committees, while Murkowski has gotten $45,950 from Republican Party committees, according to data supplied by her campaign office.

Individual donors have handed Knowles some $1.47 million, while Political Action Committees have donated $257,000. Murkowski has received $1.4 million from individuals and another $812,700 from PACs.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics has organized campaign contribution information into categories that can give voters a sense of where a candidate's support is coming from. Their most recent analysis, however, does not include the latest FEC filing for the first quarter of this year. Nevertheless, the data so far analyzed does reveal much about who may be supporting one candidate or the other.

According to the center, by the end of the last quarter, Murkowski had taken in better than four times Knowles' total from Political Action Committees $663,000 to $139,000, respectively. The recently released summaries for the first quarter of this year, however, show that rate narrowing considerably. In the first quarter of this year, $147,000 in PAC money went to Murkowski, $118,000 to Knowles.

The center also listed the candidates' "Top Contributors" as of Dec. 31. The category typically includes a corporate name, but the donations come not from those firms directly, but rather from their organizational PACs, members, employees and owners, and those individuals' families.

Topping Murkowski's list was VECO Corp., an energy industry service company, which had donated $28,000 by the end of December. General Communications Inc. GCI had given $25,600, while New Horizons Telecom had given Murkowski $20,500. Other contributors include energy companies, law firms, contractors, auto dealers and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Heading the Knowles list of "Top Contributors" by the end of December was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which contributed $34,000. Next was Baron and Budd, one of the largest environmental law firms in the country, which gave Knowles $18,500. GCI, which also donated to Murkowski, gave Knowles $15,500. Other Knowles contributors included unions, law firms and healthcare organizations.

Another way to look at donors is to view them as representing categories the Center for Responsive Politics calls "ind-ustries."

For instance, Lawyers and law firms had given Knowles more than Murkowski by the end of last year, $127,571 to $81,705. Leadership PACs (committees run by members of Congress and other political notables), however, had pumped $147,000 into Murkowski's campaign, but just $45,500 into Knowles'.

Lobbyists, too, appeared to favor Murkowski as of December, giving her $80,850. Knowles received $26,000. Oil and gas interests have provided $79,513 to Murkowski, but just $10,250 to Knowles.

Many of those numbers are likely to have changed in the latest FEC quarterly filing.

While the volume of their rhetoric could give the impression that the contributions made by members of issue-oriented groups might hold significant sway over candidates, the bulk of donations going to members of the U.S. Senate and House actually come from business sources, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Far less comes from labor unions or from ideological-single issue sources, such as the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club.

By the end of December, Murkowski had gotten almost $516,000 from business sources, $49,000 from labor and $197,000 from "ideological" sources. Knowles, on the other hand, had taken in $10,500 from business, $57,500 from labor and $95,400 from ideological sources. These numbers do not include contributions from individuals.

Larry Makinson, a senior fellow at the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., is an expert on money in American politics. Before joining CPI, he spent 15 years with the Center for Responsive Politics, serving as its executive director from 1998 through 2000. He is a former Anchorage Daily News and KAKM-TV reporter.

In Anchorage last week for the 2004 Alaska Press Club Journalism Conference, Makinson discussed how influential indeed how crucial money is to success in a campaign.

"It is absolutely murderously difficult to raise the money to run for political office," he said.

Makinson estimated the average House race costs close to $1 million, while Senate races can run into the tens of millions of dollars.

And money talks.

"There are some shocking things that money has done to the American political system," he said.

In roughly 95 percent of House races, candidates who raise the most money win, he said. In the Senate, the figure was between 80 and 85 percent. Makinson said one of the "scariest numbers" he'd heard was that in more than 60 percent of House races, not only did the winning candidate outspend his opponents, he outspent the second-place finisher by better than 10 to one.

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