Filthy Riches

The Ashcroft and Carnahan campaigns profit from money laundered through a new and deliberately confusing fundraising scheme

"This scheme institutionalizes the practice of federal candidates making direct solicitations for soft money to be used in their campaigns, and systemizes a direct relationship between soft money donors and federal candidates in a manner that plainly violates the spirit and the letter of the federal elections laws," the complaint states.

But proving that allegation isn't easy, because how the money is doled out and reported follows a plan presumably hatched by a confederacy of magicians.

The first clue comes when a spokesman at the FEC explains that unlike every other type of campaign-finance report, the actual filings of the joint fundraising accounts are not posted on the Internet but kept on microfilm in Washington, D.C. Copies of the filings can be ordered, but they take weeks to process.

"Besides," the spokesman adds, "a lot of the information isn't in the reports anyway."

A sensible question arises: Why not?

"Because it's not on there."

The information isn't all there because each of the parties posts its information in a different way, and each way leaves something out. Both parties, according to Roy of the NRSC, file hard-money contributions received by their joint fundraisers. This would include PACs and individuals giving within their contributions limits.

But for soft-money donations, the Republicans list who gave how much on what date but not how the money was then distributed to the sponsors of the joint committee. The Democrats, on the other hand, report all federal or "hard money" contributions and how they were distributed but do not report any nonfederal or soft-money contributions or how that money was distributed to the joint committee's sponsors. Neither reports who gave how much or how that money was distributed. In short, the donor's money cannot be traced to its eventual use, making enforcement of the law impossible.

In addition, according to the FEC, some money doesn't ever get reported anywhere. For example, Richard Baron of McCormack Baron in St. Louis gave $2,000 to Missouri 2000 on Dec. 14 and gave an additional $10,000 on May 30, totaling $12,000 donated to Carnahan's joint committee. But the FEC only lists $10,000 as having been sent from the fundraising account to the DSCC. What happened to the remaining $2,000 hasn't been reported anywhere; or it was spent on fundraising events listed on Missouri 2000's report, which is only on microfilm in Washington, D.C.; or its final destination is a mystery.

None of the information about who gave how much soft money to Carnahan's joint fundraising committee is available, because the Democrats don't report it. So the next best thing you can do is go to the FECInfo Web site (www.tray.com), a private site that posts all filings with the FEC. According to these figures, Missouri 2000 took in $1 million from individual contributors and $15,500 from PACs. And the site lists the names of the individuals and the amounts they gave, along with the same info about the PACs and their contributions to the joint committee. But it does not list any of the nonfederal or soft-money contributions the committee received.

So in order to find the soft-money donations received, you must either depend on a representative of the joint committee to tell you or hire a psychic.

DiMartino, of the DSCC, obliged and gave us some overall figures: Carnahan's joint fundraising committee, Missouri 2000, distributed $430,000 to the Carnahan for Senate campaign committee in hard-money donations and about $2 million to the DSCC ($1.1 million in hard money and $963,000 in soft money).

So what happened to the $2 million the DSCC received from Carnahan's joint fundraising committee? Well, it was poured into the DSCC's money pot, which, according to the FECInfo Web site, contained $10,936,197 this election cycle. And Carnahan's joint committee was one of the top contributors to the DSCC with its $2 million transfers. So far, the Web site reports that the DSCC handed over $16,500 in federal or hard-money contributions to the Carnahan for Senate Committee and $221,834 in federal or hard money to the Missouri Democratic State Committee. It shows no nonfederal or soft-money transfers to the state party committee.

But a trip to the Missouri Ethics Commission's office in Jefferson City throws a little more light on the money flow. The state Democratic Party committee's report shows that the DSCC made nonfederal or soft-money transfers totaling $1.2 million to the state committee.

And just how was that money spent? According to FEC reports, the state party committee gave $10,000 to the Carnahan for Senate committee and spent a total of about $1.5 million for "issue" ads or, technically speaking, "media buys."

And just how many of the ads had to do with getting Carnahan elected this November? This is where the money flow can no longer be tracked. The party filings do not report -- and are not required to report -- just what the ads were for or even which particular race they were spent on.

On the Republican side, the Ashcroft Victory Committee -- the joint committee sponsored by Ashcroft and the Republican party -- collected $891,250 during this election cycle, according to FECInfo: $284,045 from individuals and $5,000 from PACs in hard money, $602,000 in soft money. The soft-money donation includes the $50,000 received last September from Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc.

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