WASHINGTON – When House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., was working the phones to collect votes for a campaign finance overhaul, he managed to win over a few wavering Democratic House members by explaining that there would still be plenty of money spent on their behalf in future campaigns.
How? Under the Shays-Meehan bill — and existing law — politicians can fund-raise for so-called nonpartisan independent groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which in turn can spend money on political activities, something the NAACP, which overwhelmingly favors Democrats, spends a lot of money doing.
Nonpartisan groups like the National Rifle Association that lean Republican are already being eyed by Republicans for similar arrangements.
While President Bush is overseas, White House aides are making it more and more clear that if a measure is sent to his desk after his return he will sign it into law, so both parties are scrambling for cash.
In May, the GOP's House and Senate campaign committees hold a joint Washington fundraiser that is expected to rake in more than $20 million. In June, the Republican National Committee holds another $20 million fundraiser.
Democrats have former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., headlining two big New York fundraisers, one at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
In April, former President Clinton will help the National Democratic Party with the first of three events to collect $20 million. And in March, he'll help House Democrats raise several million dollars more.
Next week, Senate Democrats gather in Washington to raise $5 million but the headliner is not a Democrat, it's Vermont's Jim Jeffords, who left the GOP to become an Independent and gave Democrats the Senate majority.
Jeffords is also planning to campaign for vulnerable Democratic incumbents like South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, the GOP's No. 1 target this year.
Johnson is facing Republican Rep. John Thune in a state that Bush carried easily in 2000. South Dakota is also home to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and though Daschle's not up for re-election, Republicans want to embarrass him by ousting Johnson. The latest GOP ad against Johnson hits him for opposing the president's economic plan during recession and war.