Few States Regulate Outside Campaign Money
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
Out-of-state money is pouring into Florida to influence the outcome of the race for governor in the Sunshine State, which political experts regard as a a bellwether for the 2002 election and possibly the 2004 presidential race.
Former Attorney General Janet Reno, the best-known member of the field of Democrats vying to oppose Republican incumbent Jeb Bush in the November balloting, raised 26 percent of her $664,000 campaign war-chest outside of Florida last year, state records show.
Pete Sklar, an El Cerrito, Calif. accountant, said he gave $25 to Reno because he believes she would help fix Florida's election process.
"I think the Florida presidential election was certainly influenced by a lot of people from outside Florida," Sklar told Stateline.org, referring to Republican George W. Bush's defeat of Democrat Al Gore in 2000 in an election marred by widespread charges of voting irregularities in Florida.
Attorney Bill McBride, the other leading candidate in this year's Florida Democratic primary, collected 14 percent of his $987.000 in campaign contributions out of state. This was the same percentage as Bush, who is unchallenged for the GOP nomination.Bush raised $2.9 million last year.
Only a handful of states --- Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and Wisconsin-- regulate out-of-state contributions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Alaska, total contributions to gubernatorial candidates from non-residents are limited to $20,000.
In Michigan, a law that went into effect last month places a $34,000 limit on the amount of money a group can bundle together and send to a candidate for statewide office. Republican Gov. John Engler signed the bill into law because he "wanted to keep Michigan elections in the hands of Michigan voters," said spokeswoman Susan Shafer.
Nebraska requires candidates for state office to raise 25 percent of funds needed to qualify for matching public campaign funds from Nebraska residents.
Washington bars campaign contributions from businesses which operate out of state and unions and political action committees with fewer than 10 members who are Washington residents.
Wisconsin requires non-resident committees making contributions to register with the secretary of state.
In the past five years, federal courts have struck down restrictions on out-of-state contributions in Oregon and Vermont.
Campaign reform advocates say out-of-state interests shouldn't be able to exert influence in state political campaigns, but others argue that crossing state lines helps less-wealthy candidates, especially women and minorities, draw on a wider pool of contributors.
Joe Solmonese, chief of staff for Emily's List, a national organization that supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates throughout the country, said the new Michigan law is a thinly-disguised GOP message that women should stay in the kitchen and keep out of politics.
Two of the four candidates for the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Michigan are women: Attorney General Jennifer Granholm and State Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith.
"The entire bill is an attempt to stop Emily's List from being able to operate in the state of Michigan," Solmonese said. "We're the only (outside) group it would have an effect on in this election cycle."
Republican State Sen. Loren Bennett, who sponsored the measure, denies any malevolent political intent. "It just makes a level playing field here in Michigan. We're just saying that someone running for office in the state of Michigan can't leave the state (to raise money) to circumvent the law," he says.
Out-of-state money doesn't necessarily produce votes. According to a study by The Virginian-Pilot, a Hampton Roads newspaper,. Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Earley got more out-of-state money (37 percent) than Democrat Mark Warner (31 percent) in last year's election.
Earley's non-Virginia supporters got little to show for their donations. Warner was elected governor of the Old Dominion by a decisive margin.