Democrats may have more party favors to hand out while Clinton is in office, but that hasn't discouraged plenty of wealthy Republicans in this area from whipping out their checkbooks for the conservatives. And no one in Houston exercises his right to give to the Republicans more often than Enron CEO Kenneth Lay.
Over the past four years, Lay has forked over some $327,000 in 199 federal contributions -- more than $210,000 delivered in soft money donations to the RNC and other Republican party groups. He also shows an ecumenical streak. Out of 199 donations to federal campaigns listed on the Center for Responsive Politics' web site (www.crp.org), he has been a regular contributor to Democratic Representative -- and chief congressional fundraiser -- Martin Frost from Dallas. He has given money to Democrat Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and former U.S. Senator Bob Krueger of Texas, even as he was donating more money to the rival campaign of Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.
But there's a strong Republican flavor in everything Lay and Enron do.
According to the Federal Election Committee, its political action committee has given out $139,762 in the past two years, $102,881 -- or 74 percent -- steered to Republican candidates and groups.
Enron crunched the numbers from January 1, 1997 to June, 1998, and came up with a slightly smaller Republican bias: 64 percent.
"The Enron PAC contributes to candidates, not parties," says a company spokesperson. Enron said those candidates are picked based on their support of company views -- not party affiliation.
As for Lay's personal picks: No comment, the company responds.
While Arthur Schechter was cultivating his political contacts as chair of the state's Democratic party finance committee, his Republican River Oaks rival was David Dewhurst, chair of the state's Republican party finance committee and CEO of Falcon-Seaboard. In addition to his own money-raising efforts, Dewhurst is credited with 83 federal campaign contributions since 1994, amounting to a whopping $287,000. Most of that -- $175,000 -- went to Republican groups in soft money handouts.
But while Schechter was able to field a presidential appointment to the Bahamas, Dewhurst has had to battle for his big step into politics the old-fashioned way, fighting for elected office against a roster of Republican and Democratic opponents.
After toying for months with the notion of running for lieutenant governor, Dewhurst focused on the more achievable goal of Texas land commissioner. The Texas oilman blitzed the airwaves with ads featuring himself on horseback and in Texas classrooms while a background voice reviewed his conservative credentials -- ads paid for by Friends for David Dewhurst. In fact, most of the advertising was paid for by Dewhurst.
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Dewhurst has shown that his political generosity knows no bounds when it comes to his favorite candidate -- himself.
Earlier this year, Dewhurst was recognized by the CRP as one of ten candidates around the country willing to spend over a million of their own dollars to win an election. Dewhurst, says the CRP, spent more than $1.2 million of his money just to win the Republican primary for land commissioner. The self-financing seems to be paying off. In the last major poll, Dewhurst was ahead of his Democratic opponent, Richard Raymond, 37 percent to 24 percent.
Just as the RNC isn't hobbled by any contribution caps, individuals are allowed to give as much money to their own campaign as they like. And as any politician will tell you, being wealthy enough to fund your own campaign is the ultimate in soft money luxuries.
-- John Carroll