How candidates' PAC views have changed
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON - The last time a Senate challenger in Washington state took on an aging incumbent with a pledge to refuse "special-interest" money from political-action committees, the upstart was Slade Gorton.
Two decades later, Democrat Maria Cantwell is making the same pitch. Her target: incumbent Sen. Gorton.
The Washington Republican launched his national political career in 1980 by swearing off PAC money, but he succeeded in unseating U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson only after abandoning his no-PACs pledge. Cantwell reaped $1 out of every $2 from political-action committees in her last congressional campaign in 1994, but she has now given them up.
Those transformations reveal vast differences in the candidates' views on the role of money in politics. While Cantwell now sees the corporate and ideological groups that form PACs as a pernicious influence on politics, Gorton equates money with free speech.
"As far as I'm concerned, I was wrong in the 1980s," Gorton said. PACs are "simply a way of people getting together to raise money for candidates with whom they agree."
In 1994, when Cantwell was running for re-election to the U.S. House, more than half her contributions came from PACs. This year, as a high-tech millionaire, she vowed not only to refuse PAC money but to refuse direct contributions from the Democratic Party. She also asked outside groups not to spend money on her race.
Whose money is she giving up? Her support from PACs in the past has come largely from labor and professional groups.
In 1993-94, when Cantwell was running for re-election to the House, 40 percent of her PAC donations came from labor groups, not surprising for the daughter of a construction worker who became an Indiana state legislator.
Second in 1994 were organizations representing doctors, accountants, trial lawyers and nurses, who together contributed 18 percent.
Transportation and communication PACs, whom Cantwell oversaw as a member of the House Transportation Committee, contributed about 12 percent.
Forgoing such gifts is a pledge she can well afford, Gorton said.
"It really comes with a certain degree of ill grace, it seems to me, from someone who is putting millions and millions of dollars into her own campaign," Gorton said.
"More than half of her money came from political-action committees when she wasn't a millionaire . . . What she is trying to do is silence all political voices other than her own."
Gorton's campaign has called the no-PAC pledge a "publicity stunt."
If so, it's an expensive one.
Cantwell has spent $6 million - 88 percent of her $6.8 million campaign chest as of Sept. 30 - from her personal fortune. In September alone, she wrote herself campaign checks totaling $2.3 million.
Cantwell campaign manager Ron Dotzauer said his candidate is running a campaign of "personal sacrifice." He said she cashed in stock near its year-low value; she had gained the stock as an executive at RealNetworks after she lost her 1994 House re-election bid. Dotzauer thinks "the voters are going to respect the fact that she's spent more time talking to them than dialing for dollars."
Gorton, who poked fun at Magnuson's corporate and labor backers by calling himself a "skinny cat," now accepts one-fourth of his campaign money from PACs. His campaign had reaped $5.8 million as of Sept. 30; a list of the latest PAC contributions was not available.
As of Aug. 30, Gorton's campaign had received $1.1 million in PAC money.
His biggest backers are financial and insurance groups ($164,436), issue groups such as the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association ($157,084), and transportation PACs ($137,203).
The Cantwell campaign has linked his votes to special-interest donations, listing nine groups he has aided that, in turn, have contributed to his campaign. Among them: the gun lobby and mining, oil and timber companies.
Cantwell-campaign officials point to Gorton's support for a "weaker" version of a pipeline-safety bill favored by oil companies, suggesting that it was tied to contributions from oil and gas companies like Koch Industries, a Kansas-based pipeline and oil company that was recently fined $30 million by the Justice Department for violating the federal Clean Water Act.
But Gorton said, "I don't have the slightest idea what business Koch Industries is in." He noted that the pipeline bill - which died last week in the House - was written by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "who hates PACs."
Gorton says he gets money from groups that like the way he votes.
"Any political-action committee gets out of its contributions just what any individual gets out of their contributions - the satisfaction of having supported someone for public office with whom they agree," Gorton said.
"And any PAC that thinks they're getting more is wasting its money."
He has seized on the contrast between Cantwell's congressional votes and her support of campaign-finance reform as evidence of hypocrisy.
During her two years in Congress, she accepted contributions from transportation PACs seeking her support for their legislative agenda but also sought tighter campaign-finance laws as a member of the Freshman Democratic Task Force on Reform.
She raised $896,000 for her unsuccessful 1994 House race. But she also voted to impose voluntary spending limits of $600,000 for any candidate, who would then receive $200,000 in public financing.
In particular, Gorton's campaign criticizes Cantwell's 1993 vote against a bill to ban soft money and eliminate PACs. Cantwell portrays her reversal on PAC money as the mirror image of Gorton's.
"Unlike Senator Gorton, I thought about the lack of progress that we have made on this, and I wanted to run a campaign differently" this time, she said.
She supports a bill by McCain and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to ban "soft money," the unlimited contributions to political parties for so-called "issues ads" that amount to thinly disguised ads for specific candidates. Gorton has opposed the measure.
The Cantwell campaign estimates that Gorton, the Republican Party and allies running advertisements on his behalf will spend a combined $12 million, when soft money is included. Cantwell is three-quarters of the way to her goal of spending $8 million.
While Cantwell has given up soft money and contributions from PACs, some of that money is finding other routes to her campaign. She still plans to accept the Democratic Party's help in get-out-the-vote efforts. And supporters like the Sierra Club, ignoring her call for third parties to ignore the race, are running ads that depict her as the environmental candidate.
One PAC, EMILY's List, is encouraging members to give outside the PAC.
John Hendren's phone-message number is 206-464-2772. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gorton and Cantwell's PAC contributions for 1994 and 2000:
Gorton 1994 - Senate (1/1/93-12/31/1994)
From PACs: $1,110,341
Cantwell 1994 - House (1/1/93-12/31/1994)
From PACs: $491,939
Gorton 2000 - Senate (1/1/1999-8/30/2000)
From PACs: $1,148,734
Cantwell 2000 - House (1/1/1999-8/30/2000)
From PACs: $0
(From self: $3,741,348.75)
SOURCE: Federal Election Commission
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