Bank of Dole
probably has
would-be borrowers
here

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

There are probably a whole lot of politicians out there - maybe some who run for Cincinnati City Council - wishing that they had been a lot nicer to Bob Dole last year.

After all, the First National Bank of Dole opened its doors this week for the first and probably last time, and the first customer, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, walked out with a $300,000 loan that would make any red-blooded American weep for joy.

No collateral. Ten percent interest. No payments until the year 2005. Everything you could ask for, except maybe a new toaster and a box of pastel checks featuring those lovable Flintstones characters.

The next time we hear the speaker wax rhapsodic on America as a land of opportunity, we'll know he means it.

Most politicians are not so fortunate. They raise money for campaigns, not to pay off ethics violations.

But even at the micro-level of Cincinnati City Council politics, the loan business almost always come into play.

It is a very expensive business these days. Two years ago, 18 candidates - a relatively small field - spent $2.332 million, which works out to nearly $130,000 per candidate.

That's a lot of money to put together for a municipal election. And, while there is an extraordinary number of deep-pocket contributors to be dunned in Cincinnati, it is not uncommon for a candidate to borrow money - and, sometimes, substantial amounts of it - to finance at least part of a council campaign.

This happens most often in the early or late stages of a campaign - early, when a candidate wants some seed money to show potential contributors that he or she is a serious candidate; or late, when a candidate needs a quick infusion of cash for a last-minute campaign commercial. It's a lot easier than buying a bunch of canapes and stocking a wet bar for a high-roller cocktail hour on short notice.

So they borrow. But this time, because of the campaign finance law passed by city council in 1995, the borrowing will be a bit dicier.

In the past, you could borrow from just about anyone - a rich aunt, your next-door neighbor, your law partner.

But now council campaigns have contribution limits - $1,000 from individuals, $2,500 from political action committees and $10,000 from political parties.

The city solicitor's office says the new law will allow candidates to take out personal loans of whatever amount for campaign purposes, but loans from others will be subject to the contribution limits.

This could crimp the style of a few candidates. Anyone who was ever a kid, and that's most of us, knows that the first place to go for money is your parents. You might have gotten an allowance, but , when need be, you'd try to dun your dad for an extra buck or two, even though you knew you'd have to listen to him grumble about how you were nickel-and-diming him to death.

Two years ago, Republican Phil Heimlich went to his parents. They gave his campaign about $55,000 in loans. They turned out to be the best kind of loan you can have - the debts were forgiven. He couldn't do that this time around, but Mr. Heimlich's $20,000 personal loan to the campaign - also forgiven - would be OK.

Another council candidate, Democrat Minette Cooper, who won on her first try, had $72,000 in loans from herself. She could still do that, because contribution limits or no, there's nothing to prevent candidates from financing their own campaigns.

But substantial five-figure loans from others will not cut the mustard this year, city lawyers say. Which probably means the First National Bank of Dole won't open a branch here anytime soon.