GOP 527 Off to a Slow Start

Posted February 4, 2004 at 7:02pm

Corporations contributed just $225,000 to the leading Republican “shadow” fundraising committee in 2003 — 1 percent of what labor unions, environmentalists and liberal groups donated to a host of Democratic fundraising arms last year.

The new fundraising figures for the Leadership Forum, which were made public in IRS filings released Wednesday, showed that Republican-leaning business groups remain skittish about writing large political checks in the year after Congress outlawed soft-money donations to the Republican and Democratic parties. A rulemaking process ongoing at the Federal Election Commission is likely to allay or validate those fears (see story, this page).

“Corporations are somewhat reluctant to give until they are certain they are not going to get hauled before the FEC,” said one corporate lobbyist.

The Leadership Forum did not even solicit corporate contributions until the last few months of last year — and only BellSouth Corp., International Paper, the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, Nortel Networks, Northrop Grumman, United Parcel Service, Vivendi Universal Entertainment and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals sent checks to the organization.

In all, the Leadership Forum received $75,000 from the ranks of the 100 corporations that give the most soft money during the 2001-02 election cycle.

In contrast, the half-dozen Democratic 527 organizations received a total of $22 million in 2003, including $585,000 from the AFL-CIO, $150,000 from the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and $50,000 from the Sierra Club.

To be sure, the leaders of the GOP fundraising organization believe that they will have little difficulty raising large sums of cash once corporations and business groups feel comfortable with the new campaign finance rules.

“We’re just getting started,” said one Republican who is helping raise money for the Leadership Forum.

The Leadership Forum has established a board and is close to finalizing its first-ever fundraising event, a Feb. 13 luncheon headlined by a panel of conservative commentators.

Members of the board include GOP lobbyists Gregg Hartley of Cassidy & Associates, Steve Hart of Williams & Jensen, former Rep. Susan Molinari (R-N.Y.) of the Washington Group and Ed Hamburger of the Association of American Railroads. The board will be led by the Leadership Forum’s directors, Susan Hirschmann of Williams & Jensen and former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) of Akin Gump.

Randy Belote, a spokesman for Northrop, said that the defense contractor contributed to the Leadership Forum because the organization “was very much aligned” with the company’s ideology. “They are very supportive of defense and national security issues,” he said.

Local phone company BellSouth and movie producer Vivendi-Universal were the only corporations that donated to both Republican and Democratic fundraising committees.

BellSouth split $45,000 between Grassroots Democrats and Voices for Working Families, in addition to its $25,000 check to the Leadership Forum.

“We get asked by our friends to help these organizations,” said BellSouth spokesman Bill McCloskey. “We believe in good government so we help them.”