Tags: Washington | Insight; | Incumbents | Rule | Again

Washington Insight; Incumbents Rule, Again

Monday, 13 November 2000 12:00 AM

Every incumbent - both Democrat and Republican - was re-elected, some for the umpteenth time. No doubt, all of them are doing excellent jobs and fully deserve to be re-elected.

But surely another reason is that, despite occupying some of the safest seats in Congress, together they raise millions of dollars each election cycle to crush obscure, mostly cash-starved opponents.

The ability of incumbents to raise money - lots of it - goes a long way to explain why only a meager two out of 400 incumbents up for re-election were unseated on Tuesday.

A tally of campaign contributions through Sept. 30 shows that a dozen mostly Democratic representatives raised more than $6 million through last September to get re-elected. Their challengers - in those cases where they even had one - reported raising a total of $48,757.

The question can rightly be asked: What on earth do powerful incumbents in safe seats need all that money for?

Some of it goes to pay for traditional campaign expenses such as posters, billboards and phone banks. But incumbents are also expected to raise more than they can use themselves, and to contribute to their party's campaign coffers to help other less secure - and less flush - candidates win. Most also carry over a large share of what they raise from one election to the next, giving them the luxury of having money in the bank at the beginning of every term.

Just demonstrating an ability to raise money year after year helps scare off potential challengers. Unlike most challengers, incumbents are also able to generate significant contributions from political action committees representing special interests from trade unions to pharmaceutical companies.

Not surprisingly, most incumbents say they hate doing business this way. Every Bay Area Democrat gets an A rating from Common Cause for his or her support of campaign-finance reform.

"This is the system we have," Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez told me a few weeks ago. "I'd vote in a heartbeat to change it."

One of Miller's first acts when he came to Washington as a firebrand member of the post-Watergate freshman class of 1974 was to vote for finance laws that put strict limits on federal campaign contributions. In the years since then, Miller's bushy brown hair and mustache have turned nearly completely white - and the campaign finance laws he supported a generation ago have been almost totally ineffective in restricting the dollar flows into federal elections.

Even though he always wins by comfortable majorities, each election cycle Miller has to go back to the trough to raise funds for his own election and for his party. This election he raised $360,000, about half of which comes from political action committees. His GOP opponent Christopher Hoffman reported having raised a grand total of $5,848. "Unfortunately, the money outran the reforms" of 1974, Miller said. "People just found ways to get around them."

The money Miller raises pales in comparison to what's needed in contested or close House races. But the way the system normally works is that, barring scandal or malfeasance, almost every incumbent who raises a few hundred thousand dollars each year is likely to be re- elect ed. Tuesday's elections shows that the odds of an incumbent being unseated is now about 1 in 200.

The only way to change the balance of power in Washington is to change the laws so that challengers aren't rendered powerless before they make their first campaign speech. But the Republican-led Congress - returned to power for the third time in a row - has repeatedly blocked any serious reform efforts.

Don't expect that to change in the next Congress.

(C) 2000 The San Francisco Chronicle via Bell&Howell Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

© 2019 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

   
1Like our page
2Share
Pre-2008
Every incumbent - both Democrat and Republican - was re-elected, some for the umpteenth time. No doubt, all of them are doing excellent jobs and fully deserve to be re-elected. But surely another reason is that, despite occupying some of the safest seats in Congress,...
Washington,Insight;,Incumbents,Rule,,Again
625
2000-00-13
Monday, 13 November 2000 12:00 AM
Newsmax Media, Inc.
 

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

NEWSMAX.COM
America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved