Dennis Moore, who represents Lawrence in Congress, supports a campaign-finance bill, now stalled in the House, that bans "soft" money and restricts "issue" ads by special-interest groups.
The $3.4 million that Kansas candidates for four U.S. House seats spent on campaigns in 1998 could have financed Lawrence Public Library's acquisition budget for a decade.
With that same pot of gold, United Way of Douglas County could have bankrolled budgets for 30 agencies for three years, and the nonprofit Health Care Access could easily have met medical needs of all uninsured Douglas County residents in 1999.
The money also could have paid more than half the cost of Lawrence's new elementary school under construction on 15th Street.
One of the state's biggest campaign spenders -- U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan. -- questioned the sanity of a system that coerced candidates to devote massive sums of cash to TV-driven congressional campaigns that occur every two years.
Moore's federal campaign report shows he spent $961,000 unseating incumbent Vince Snowbarger, a Republican who represented Lawrence and the rest of the 3rd District for two years.
Snowbarger poured $974,000 into his cause, based on an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign fund-raising.
Collectively, the Moore-Snowbarger showdown was the most expensive House race in state history.
"Which to me is obscene," Moore said. "It says something about campaign-finance laws in this country."
In 1998, the average House winner spent $673,000. Preliminary figures indicate Senate winners' campaigns averaged $4.9 million. The top-spending candidates won 95 percent of House races and 94 percent of Senate contests.
Here's the tally for the three other congressional races:
- Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., spent $621,000 to beat two challengers in the 4th District -- Democrat Jim Lawing ($23,000) and third-party candidate Craig Newland (no reported expenditures). Tiahrt won 58 percent of the vote.
- Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., devoted $501,000 to his campaign to repel Democrat Jim Clark ($109,000). Ryun, who lives north of Lawrence, captured 60 percent of votes in the 2nd District.
- Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., defeated Democrat Jim Phillips by earning 80 percent of the vote in the 1st District of western Kansas. Moran fueled his effort with nearly $290,000, while Phillips didn't spend more than $50,000.
In the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Sam Brownback and Democrat Paul Feleciano, the challenger was overwhelmed by Brownback's $1.4 million campaign spending program. Feleciano's campaign cost $38,000. Brownback secured 65 percent of the vote to earn a six-year term.
During a visit to Lawrence, Moore said personal expenditures by candidates represented the tip of the iceberg in campaign spending.
Unregulated "soft" money contributions from wealthy individuals, labor unions and corporations to political parties influenced the Kansas races, as did so-called "issue ads" paid for by special-interest groups.
Moore said he was troubled most by the activities of stealthy special-interest organizations. He said their ads "undermine candidates" with spots that cleverly sidestep laws forbidding direct advocacy of a specific candidate.
Of course, he said, a child reading between the lines could tell which candidate an issue ad favored.
"It doesn't take a brain surgeon to do that," Moore said.
For that reason, Moore is co-sponsor of the bipartisan Shays-Meehan reform bill struggling against Republican opposition to make it to the House floor for a vote. It passed the House eight months ago but was blocked by a Senate filibuster in the waning days of the last Congress.
The bill, introduced again in January, would ban soft money and require special-interest groups to pay for issue ads with money raised according to federal campaign finance laws.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has worked to block House action on Shays-Meehan just as his predecessor, Newt Gingrich, did last session.
In response, a group of conservative and moderate House Democrats known as the Blue Dog Coalition is preparing a special petition to override Hastert and force a floor vote. Moore is a member of the coalition.
"The Blue Dogs and the Democratic freshmen are to be commended for the leadership roles they are taking in the fight for campaign reform," said Ann McBride, president of Common Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens' lobbying organization promoting accountable government.
McBride said that if the House failed to pass Shays-Meehan until the end of 1999, or puts off passage until 2000, the soft-money system would remain intact for the 2000 elections.
"If Congress doesn't act soon, a deluge of unregulated, undisclosed money will flood the 2000 elections and make what happened in 1996 and 1998 look like child's play," she said.
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.