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PAC Dollars Favor Daschle

In a sign that incumbency sometimes trumps majority, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) raised more than three times as much money for his re-election bid from U.S. corporations as former Rep. John Thune (R), his pro-business opponent.

Since the start of the race, business PACs have contributed $322,000 to Daschle’s re-election account and just $93,000 to his GOP challenger, according to campaign finance reports. The figures have prompted Republicans on K Street to organize a campaign to raise money for Thune.

The business contributions to Daschle — who has opposed industry priorities from energy legislation to asbestos litigation reform — reflect the top Senate Democrat’s influence in Washington.

Why are businesses favoring Daschle over Thune? “Because he’s the Minority Leader,” said David Rehr, a former House Republican aide and now top lobbyist for the National Association of Beer Wholesalers, one of the groups that has contributed to Daschle.

Dirk Van Dongen, the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, added: “There are some numbers of folks in town who will always play the incumbent game.”

Daschle supporters take business’ donation patterns as a sign that corporations believe Daschle will win in November.

“Despite the bravado from the Republican Party, our success in the [business] community is a sign that a victory by Thune is still a very, very long shot,” Pfeiffer said. “People are very aware that at the end of the day it is very likely that Senator Daschle will be re-elected.”

To close the fundraising gap in corporate America, a pair of groups in Washington has kicked off efforts to raise millions of dollars for Thune this year.

On Capitol Hill, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has opened a joint-fundraising account called Thune for America’s Future that could funnel well over $1 million to Thune’s re-election coffers.

Meanwhile, two dozen Washington trade associations have kicked off an effort to raise about $500,000 for Thune from business.

“It’s a cooperative effort in which trade association executives each commit to raising $25,000 each for Thune,” said Jade West, a former Senate Republican aide who is helping to organize the effort from her perch as a lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

The fundraising campaign, called Team Thune, was launched two weeks ago at a meeting at West’s K Street offices. The meeting featured a personal pitch from Thune.

Similar fundraising committees were initiated by lobbyists a few years ago during the re-election campaign for the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.).

And in 2002, trade industry officials established similar fundraising drives for Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.)

This year, the trade groups hope to raise $500,000 each for Thune and for Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is running against Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

The trade associations will sponsor a fundraiser for Thune on May 18, headlined by Bush White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

For now, though, business are showering Daschle with campaign donations. Fundraising totals since the race began in January show that a total of 122 business have contributed to Daschle, while just 34 have given to Thune.

Among Daschle’s business backers are a number of big GOP supporters, including ExxonMobil, GlaxoSmithKline and ChevronTexaco. Even News Corp., the owner of the same Fox News shows that profit from bashing Daschle and other Democrats, sent Daschle a $2,000 check in early February.

Among other companies that gave generously to Daschle during the first three months of the year were such telecommunications companies as AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon Communications; such financial services firms as Bank of America, Lehman Brothers and American Express; and such air carriers as American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

Daschle also received campaign checks from several business groups run by prominent Republicans. The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, for example, gave Daschle $1,000 even though the president of the wireless phone industry’s trade association is former Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.).

Daschle also received $4,000 from Major League Baseball, even though many of the league’s owners are top givers to President Bush, a one-time baseball owner.

Thune, for his part, did receive large contributions from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Rolls Royce. “We’re going to get our fair share of the business PAC money,” said Thune campaign manager Dick Wadhams.

Wadhams added that Thune has done a better job of raising money from South Dakota residents than Daschle.

In the last five years, Wadhams said, Daschle has raised about $400,000 from individuals in South Dakota. During Thune’s first three months in the race, he took in $600,000 from state residents.

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