Money Trail Opener

Chronology: Money In Politics

Coffee With The President

Where The Money Was Spent

Was There A Payback?

The Investigations

The White House Defense

Does Everybody Do It?

Running For Dollars

Campaign Law Loopholes

Campaign Sweets

An Experiment In Cincinnati

Is Money Speech?

Poll: Most Say Clinton Acted Illegally Or Unethically

Roadblocks To Reform

Key Terms

Index of VXtreme Video-On-Demand

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Let's Go To The Videotape (TIME, 10/13/97)

Campaign-Finance Fight Cools Friendships (CQ, 9/29/97)

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The Money Trail: Democracy For Sale

An Experiment In Cincinnati

By Jeff Flock/CNN


CINCINNATI, Ohio (Oct. 7) -- Phil Heimlich's father is famous for a life-saving technique. Phil Heimlich, the son, is famous for raising more campaign money than anyone in Cincinnati City Council history.

"Let's put it this way: I work very hard at it," Heimlich told CNN.

In his first race in 1993 he out-raised all but one of the 21 candidates. Two years later set a record: $362,000. This year he's got so much money they joke about it at council meetings. "Have you hit $450,000?" quipped Mayor Qualls at one.

A look at a page from his contribution list shows how thoroughly he shakes the trees. A dozen lawyers from the same politically connected firm all wrote checks to Heimlich the same day. These lawyers say the pressure is intense to give to all candidates.

Said attorney Joseph Rouse, "You are expected to give and give and on several different occasions and to several different candidates and not only give to this campaign or this election but to the next one and the next one and the next one."

The pursuit of money was so relentless, the council voted to reform itself, limiting contributions to $1,000 a person, $2,500 for PACs, and capping spending at about $145,000.

Then came Chris Finney who sued and got the spending cap tossed out. "Spending is speech," he says. The city is appealing and the case is headed to the Supreme Court. Finney says he has no qualms.


"I celebrate it," he told CNN. "It doesn't make me uncomfortable. ... The amount of money means there is more speech."

The people who sit on the council make about $48,000 a year; the mayor makes a little more. Some will spend between five and ten times that to get elected this November.

Council member Dwight Tillery calls spending $400,000 on a city council campaign "absurd" but quickly adds, "Of course I'd spend it if I could."

No cap, no reform?


And that's the problem: no cap, no real reform.

Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls told CNN, "If you really want to tackle this issue you have to be able to cap how much people are allowed to spend."

And some say the contribution limits, which are still in place, are making it even tougher on challengers.

"If you are a newcomer to the electoral process campaign finance reform makes it probably ten times more difficult to raise dollars," said city council candidate Todd Ward.

Only one council member, the reform sponsor, is adhering to the spending cap. "I agreed voluntarily to abide by it, because I believe in it," said council member Todd Portune.

Phil Heimlich does not.

"I became a full-time fund-raiser last summer," Heimlich said.

He had to, he says, because while reform hasn't made it harder to spend money, it is definitely harder to raise it.

"I raise more money because I work harder at it, it's that simple."

But nothing is simple it seems, when it comes to reforming a system that encourages the hard work of fund-raising over the hard work of governing.

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