Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Costs increase to seek assembly

Candidates spent 40% more in 2000

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — The cost of campaigning for the Kentucky General Assembly skyrocketed in 2000.

        According to figures compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, candidates for the 119 legislative offices last year raised $8.8 million, a 40 percent increase from $5.3 million raised in 1998.

        The most significant increases came from state Senate races. While a few years ago a $100,000 campaign was unusual, the average in 2000 was $107,602. Twenty-three of 42 Senate candidates raised more than $100,000 in 2000. The average cost in 1998 was $51,822, less than half the 2000 average.

        The average House candidate raised $22,870 in 2000, a third more than the 1998 average of $17,283.

        Kentucky Republican Party Chairwoman Ellen Williams said the reason is simple. “We have a viable two-party system at the state level in Kentucky now,” Ms. Williams said Tuesday. “When you have viable competition among the races, it does become more expensive.”

        Competition, especially for control of the Senate in 2000, added to the fund-raising frenzy, agreed Democratic Party Chairwoman Nicki Patton.

        One race in particular skewed the overall figures. The campaign between Democrat Ray Jones and Republican Chris Ratliff for the Senate seat from Pike County raised more than $1 million. Mr. Jones raised $636,947 compared with Mr. Ratliff's $242,244.

        The Jones-Ratliff race demonstrated another finding of the report: Money wins.

        In the 100 House races and 19 Senate races, 108 candidates who raised the most money won their races. And often the big money raiser was an incumbent, with 102 of them getting re-elected.

        Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause of Kentucky and a member of the Registry of Election Finance, said money has changed politics dramatically.

        “The candidates now, they don't really have to engage neighborhoods, precinct organizations, as long as they can get the money,” Mr. Beliles said. “I see this as a negative.”

        Mr. Beliles said traditional political party organizations have become less influential, but the study found that the biggest contributors to legislative candidates were the parties — $1.035 million from Democrats and $677,440 from Republicans.

        Ms. Patton said there was no conclusion to be drawn from the huge increases in campaign costs and fund raising. “I think it's a simple fact. I wouldn't put a value to that, good or bad.”

        Wealthy candidates also financed some of their own campaigns, but with mixed success.

        Republican Ben Fletcher of Hopkinsville spent $96,904 of his own money but failed to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Joey Pendleton of Hopkinsville. Johnny Ray Turner of Drift spent $73,400 of his own money to unseat incumbent Benny Ray Bailey in the 29th District Democratic primary.

        Other big contributors to legislative races were the political action committees of Kentucky teachers, doctors, optometrists and Realtors.

        The institute, based in Helena, Mont., is not affiliated with any political organization and does not take the position that money in politics is good or bad. “Our purpose is to provide the information so people can make that judgment for themselves,” said institute spokeswoman Sue O'Connell.

        The costs will keep rising, party officials agree.


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