Sunday, April 16, 2000

Internet donations come to state races


Ky. Senate candidate accepts e-donations

BY Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — Cyber-contributions have finally come to Kentucky statehouse politics.

        John Stephenson, a Fort Mitchell Democrat running for state Senate, is apparently the first statehouse candidate in Kentucky to have the capability to accept campaign contributions over the Internet.

        “I'm doing this not only because it's easier for people to make a direct contribution to me over the Internet,” he said, “but this is also in the name of campaign finance reform.

        “I won't be in personal contact with the people who are giving me money. This will be the only fund-raising I do, so people won't be trying to influence me when they give me money.”

        Contributors could eventually seek a favor from Mr. Stephenson, which is what some people who give money to politicians do.

        “But since they won't be directly handing me checks or giving money to my campaign people, I don't think they'll be as inclined to ask me for something,” he said.

        Mr. Stephenson said he was inspired by the success Arizona Sen. John McCain had attracting Internet campaign contributors during his run for the Republican presidential nomination this year. In the 24 hours after winning Republican primaries in Arizona and Michigan in February, Mr. McCain's campaign took in $250,000 over the Internet.

        Some Kentucky candidates for federal office, including 3rd District U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, R-Louisville, have political Web sites where donations can be made using a credit card. Gatewood Galbraith, a Lexington Reform Party candidate who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year, also had a Web site equipped for campaign contributions.

        “We can take contributions on our Web site for the state party,” said Cathy Bell, treasurer for the Kentucky Republican Party.

        “You see it happening all over the place in politics. But I don't know of any of our (statehouse) candidates who have ever done it.”

        Mr. Stephenson is running next month in the 11th Senate District Democratic primary against Union lawyer Ed Kagan. The district covers a number of Kenton County suburbs — including Fort Mitchell, Villa Hills, Crescent Springs and Crestview Hills — and all of Boone County.

        The incumbent, Senate President Pro Tem Dick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park, is unopposed in the GOP primary.

        More and more politicians, from “presidential candidates to sheriffs” are taking direct contributions over the Internet, said Jay MacAniff, at San Francisco-based Aristotle Publishing, which provided the capability for Mr. Stephenson's Web site.

        “We have about 300 candidates now raising money online,” Mr. MacAniff said. “There's really no reason a candidate shouldn't use the Internet. That way voters have access to a candidate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And they can give money any time they like by just using their credit card.”

        Fort Wright City Councilman Dave Hatter is a member of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee and part owner of a Cincinnati computer firm. A party strategist and organizer, Mr. Hatter has developed Web sites for several GOP candidates, including U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning; state Sen. Jack Westwood of Erlanger; state Rep. Jon Draud of Crestview Hills; and Mr. Roeding.

        Mr. Hatter said he will “look into” establishing the service for candidates he works with and supports, even though he thinks it may not be very cost-effective.

        Aristotle sets up the service for nothing but charges $2 per transaction and 10 percent of the contribution.

        “There are fees associated with every transaction on the Internet,” Mr. Hatter said. “I think the return would be very marginal. You're going to loose out on campaign money by paying for this service.”

        Mr. Stephenson disagrees, saying it costs candidates money to solicit contributions through direct mail or at political fund-raisers, where overhead costs can include food, an open bar and even entertainment.

        “I think it's about the best way for a politician to raise money because almost everybody is on the Internet, or at least has access to it, and you keep the financial relationship at arms length,” he said.

        Mr. Stephenson's Web site is www.jstephenson.com.

       



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