Democrats change their tune on fund-raising

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Extended stretches of my youth and early middle age were spent joyfully, if not triumphantly, working in political campaigns in some 38 states and Venezuela. My duties included fund-raising, an experience that left an “anti-Calvinist,” convinced that the Creator bestowed large amounts of money on the least appealing and interesting of His creatures.

The “idealism” of the typical Big Giver is best summed up in the following story:

U.S. cheese consumption had fallen sharply, and The American cheese industry faced acute recession. The industry hired a well-connected Washington lobbyist whose solution was to secure a papal audience in Rome.

A handful of industry leaders, led by the lobbyist, met with the pope and delivered the following message: “Holy Father, you are a respected and compassionate world leader, and we are prepared to make a generous seven-figure gift to you for your good work. … We only have one request. You know that prayer where it says ‘Give us this day our daily bread’? If you would only add two little words: ‘Give us this day our daily bread and cheese,’ we could be very helpful.”

The pope is outraged. “This is the Lord’s prayer directly from Scripture you’re talking about. I will have to ask you to leave immediately.” As four burly Swiss Guards hustle the cheese people out, their spokesman shouts back, “We’re ready to double whatever the bread people gave you.”

Historically, national Republicans have consistently bested national Democrats at political fund-raising. Democrats, with more than a whiff of moral superiority, liked to attribute the GOP’s success to that party’s excessive chumminess with, even submissiveness toward, Big Money.

Democrats mostly chose to ignore the inconvenient fact that the national Republican Party had more individual, small contributors than they did. A Republican president, raising money for his party’s candidates, was predictably called by Democrats — and more than a few in the press — the “Fund-raiser in Chief.”

But this year with the news that both Illinois senator Barack Obama and New York senator Hillary Clinton have set a new fund-raising record for the second quarter of the year preceding the presidential election and that Democratic presidential candidates have suddenly reversed the Republicans’ historic advantage in campaign bucks, their tune has changed.

The enormous amounts being given to Democratic candidates, including those for the House and Senate, do not, we are assured, suggest any over-coziness of the party of Jefferson-Jackson-and Howard Dean with any Special Interests.

No, the bulging Democratic campaign coffers are the product of grass-roots enthusiasm and “the strong desire for change in the country.” It is true that Obama’s 2007 donor base of 258,000 individual citizens is more than impressive. It is unprecedented.

But having discovered overnight a pristine virtue among current contributors to their candidates, self-congratulatory Democrats would be wise to remember that previous record-breaking presidential fund-raisers have included in 1980, former Texas governor John Connally, whose $12 million campaign chest earned him just one convention delegate — Mrs. Ada Mills of Clarksville, Ark.

In 1996, publisher Steve Forbes spent $40 million and did not place in either Iowa or New Hampshire. In that same campaign the Texas senator with a deep drawl, Phil Gramm (the first non-English-speaking candidate for the White House), set new fund-raising numbers in 1995, only to finish fifth in the Iowa caucuses and never even make it to Manchester or Concord.

Money can buy TV time and get press attention. But in politics and in life, money can’t buy love — or victory.


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