Filthy Riches

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

How that money was spent is unclear. Roy, of the NRSC, declined to provide any figures. But the FECInfo Web site notes that $530,000 in hard money went directly from the Ashcroft Victory Committee to Ashcroft 2000. This would seem to contradict the figure of hard money received, which is only $289,045. But it may be explained if one accepts another report, this one from the National Journal's "CongressDaily," which says that Ashcroft's joint fundraising committee raised $1.5 million in hard money and $984,000 in soft money.

As to what happened to any of the soft money collected by Ashcroft's joint committee, what has been reported to the FEC is that $35,000 went to the NRSC and $530,000 in hard money went to Ashcroft's campaign committee. All we know from the reports is that the NRSC did give $17,500 in hard money to Ashcroft 2000, the campaign committee, and that the NRSC also gave $71,325 last year to the National Republican Committee (RNC).

Presumably Ashcroft's joint fundraising committee has given a lot more money to the NRSC or the RNC, but so far it hasn't reported that information.

Octavio Diaz

Is any of the soft money raised by the Ashcroft Victory Committee, then, being funneled back to Missouri to be used for "issue" ads praising Ashcroft or trashing Carnahan? The FEC information shows the RNC sending $112,894 in contributions last year to the Missouri Republican State Committee. And a look at the ethics-commission reports filed in Jefferson City by the state committee shows that the RNC also gave $272,000 this year in soft money to the state committee.

The filings of the state committee show that it has taken in about $2.1 million altogether from various sources. As to whether any of that money was spent to buy ads to help get Ashcroft elected, the report says $624,000 of it was spent on "issue ads." Once again, the money flow is impossible to track beyond that vague description.

The real sticking point in all of this, though, is based on the Common Cause complaint alleging that what the national senatorial committees take in from the joint fundraising committees is then funneled to the candidate's state party, which then buys ads supporting the candidate.

But the state parties, like the joint fundraising committees, have an elaborate accounting system that separates hard-money from soft-money donations and transfers. And because state parties help out federal candidates as well as state candidates, they must navigate state laws for state candidates and federal laws for federal candidates, and it's too hard to document what money is being spent on what. So expenses are paid for by both hard and soft money in accordance with an allocation formula determined by the FEC.

"For example," says Roy Temple, spokes-man for the Missouri State Democratic Party, "my salary is automatically paid for by what's called an administrative split. I can't reasonably account for the percentage of my time spent helping in federal races vs. nonfederal races. The FEC has a formula at the beginning of the election cycle, and they say, 'For the period of this election, your administrative split is this.'

"Issue ads have to be paid for on the split," Temple continues. "So issue ads aren't paid for with all soft money, they're also paid for on a hard-money/soft-money split as well. There's some accountability built into that, which assumes there is some benefit for a federal race."

So any money coming to the state party from the senatorial committees is designated as hard or soft money. Then, when the state party buys an ad, even an issue ad, it is paid for with both hard and soft money according to the allocation formula set up by the FEC.

But try tracking all of that.

Then, to find out how much the parties spent for television ads, the easiest thing seems to be to call the state parties themselves and simply ask. But spokesmen from both state parties say they don't disclose that number outright, because they don't want the other party to know how much they're spending.

Daryl D. Duwe, spokesman for the Missouri State Republican Party, has a suggestion, though. "If you were to go to all of the television stations in the state, you could look at their files and then add it all up."

A trip to just one television station, however, is enough: Because these ads are considered "issue ads," the parties aren't required to list how much they paid for them, only that they were taken out.

Douglas Weber, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C., which analyzes campaign-finance data, finds joint fundraising committees a bit frustrating. "Unfortunately, these committees make it very hard to track the money," he says.

Related Links:
The Federal Elections Commission
FEC Info
Center for Responsive Politics

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