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Unopposed House Members Raise $15 Million for Campaigns

October 28, 1988 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The 59 House members facing no major party challenge to re-election have raised $14.8 million for their campaigns, and nearly half of them will be entitled to keep any unspent money when they retire, a private study made available on Thursday said.

The list includes such House leadership figures as Speaker Jim Wright, D- Texas, and Reps. Claude Pepper, D-Fla., chairman of the Rules Committee; John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Kika de la Garza, D-Texas, chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

Forty-three of the 59 unopposed lawmakers are Democrats who control the House, according to the study compiled by the watchdog group Congress Watch. The $14.8 million includes $7.4 million from political action committees.

″That these PACs feel compelled to contribute to lawmakers who have no opponent shows that what’s being sought is access and influence, not compatible candidates or good government,″ said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, the parent organization of Congress Watch.

The legislators or their aides who were questioned defended the fund raising, arguing that campaign funds must be collected before they know whether they will have an election opponent.

″If you had a crystal ball, you wouldn’t enter into one of these fund- raising strategies,″ said Cliff Gibbons, who is campaign finance manager for his father, Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Fla.

Congress Watch said the elder Gibbons has raised $309,537 from PACs, second highest total among the unopposed incumbents, and $503,340 overall, the third highest mark after Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, and Dingell. Gibbons is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee on trade.

PACs are formed by corporations, labor unions and other interest groups to funnel money to candidates, with incumbents the long-favored recipients. For the 1986 elections, according to Federal Election Commission records, PACs sent 88 percent of their contributions to lawmakers seeking re-election.

Congress Watch found that from Jan. 1, 1987, through Sept. 30, 1988, 31 of the 59 incumbents with no primary or major party general election opponents raised more than $100,000 from PACs. Of these, 12 raked in more than $200,000 and three pocketed more than $300,000.

During the same period, 20 unopposed incumbents raised more than $300,000 from PACs and individuals combined. Of these, 10 collected more than $400,000 and three received more than $500,000. The figures were compiled from Federal Election Commission data.

Frost, whose $524,000 in PAC and individual contributions was tops on the list, said he had raised most of his money last year before he knew he would be unopposed.

Asked if compiling such a formidable campaign warchest could serve to scare off opponents, he said, ″It hasn’t in the past.″ Frost, first elected in 1978 and a member of the House Rules and Budget committees, has always had opponents before.

The Congress Watch study said that of the 59 unchallenged incumbents, 18 also faced no rivals in their 1986 contests and 29 others received at least 65 percent of the vote in that year’s primaries and general elections. Only six of the 59 were re-elected in 1986 with less than 55 percent of the vote.

Dingell has received $379,842 in PAC contributions alone for 1988, the most among the unopposed incumbents.

When Congress passed legislation in 1974 that barred lawmakers from using unspent campaign money for personal use after retiring from Congress, they exempted House members elected before 1980. Twenty-eight of the 60 representatives studied would qualify to keep the money.

Those 28 lawmakers are Gibbons, Frost, Dingell, de la Garza, Wright, Pepper, Tom Bevill, D-Ala.; Vic Fazio, D-Calif.; Ed Roybal, D-Calif.; Charles Bennett, D-Fla.; William Lehman, D-Fla.; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Joseph Early, D-Mass.; Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Moakley, D-Mass.

Also, Robert Roe, D-N.J.; James Scheuer, D-N.Y.; Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.; Matthew McHugh, D-N.Y.; H. Martin Lancaster, D-N.C.; Wes Watkins, D-Okla.; Bud Shuster, R-Pa.; Charles Wilson, D-Texas; Jack Brooks, D-Texas; J.J. Pickle, D- Texas; Marvin Leath, D-Texas; Charles Stenholm, D-Texas; and Al Swift, D- Wash.