Daschle’s Five-Year, $9.5M Spending Spree

Posted February 25, 2004 at 6:49pm

In the five years leading up to his re-election bid this year, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) spent $9.5 million on his political activities, roughly 40 percent of which was disbursed in 2003 alone, according to an analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

From Jan. 1, 1999, to Dec. 31, 2003, Daschle spent $4.6 million from his personal campaign account, the highest total of any of the 34 incumbents up for re-election in November.

He also disbursed roughly $4.9 million during that time period — $870,000 in 2003 — through Dedicated Americans for the Senate and House, his leadership committee.

“The money that we have spent in this campaign has been part of a very strategic plan to communicate with the voters of South Dakota,” said Daschle campaign manager Steve Hildebrand.

He noted that DASHPAC’s expenditures covered both the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, which saw Daschle spend heavily on behalf of the party and its candidates.

Hildebrand has previously said the campaign will raise and spend roughly $10 million through the Senator’s re-election committee, a figure with which he said he remained “very comfortable.”

Dick Wadhams, campaign manager for former House Member and current Daschle challenger John Thune (R), however, questioned whether the Senator’s spending has yielded any tangible results.

“It must be embarrassing to have spent $4.6 million even before we got into election year 2004,” said Wadhams. “The poll numbers remain remarkably the same as they have for a couple of years.”

The most recent independent poll done in the race came earlier this month and showed Daschle with a 50 percent to 43 percent lead.

A late August survey conducted by the same firm showed Daschle ahead 48 percent to 46 percent. Both Daschle leads were within the polls’ margins of error.

Wadhams said Thune has budgeted $6 million for the race; the former Congressman will get a major financial boost March 8 when Vice President Cheney travels to Sioux Falls to raise money for his Senate bid. He had not begun collecting funds at year’s end, however.

Thune has come under some fire from Democrats for spending $50,000 in 2003 out of a state account opened for his aborted gubernatorial bid in 2002. Thune’s campaign has not released an itemization of those expenditures and is not required to do so under South Dakota law.

A close look at Daschle’s spending from his Senate campaign committee shows the overwhelming majority — nearly 75 percent — came in 2003, when he disbursed a total of $3.2 million on campaign activities.

The largest expenditure during that time frame was to AB Data, which handles direct mail for Daschle.

The firm received $787,000 in 2003 which went to nationwide donor prospecting that developed 26,000 new givers deemed extremely likely to recontribute, according to the Daschle campaign.

Overall, Daschle spent $813,000 on direct mail and phone bank efforts from 1999 through 2003.

Daschle spent another $687,000 on consulting fees to a variety of companies including Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the campaign pollster; Struble Eichenbaum Communications, Daschle’s media consultant; and Media Strategies, the firm that places television buys for him.

Media Strategies received $350,000 in 2003 and another $78,000 between 2002 and 2001.

Karl Struble, who has handled media strategy for Daschle since 1984, received $218,000 for production costs last year.

Daschle has been running positive ads documenting his work on health care and military issues since last summer.

He has run 10,000 points in the Sioux Falls market and 6,000 points in Rapid City. A one thousand point buy means the average viewer sees the spot ten times.

The campaign briefly went dark from Nov. 15 to Jan. 5 but is now back on the air with a commercial touting Daschle’s attempts to keep Ellsworth Air Force Base open.

The ad features testimonials from several South Dakotans, including Mike Wilson, who calls Daschle “one of the most powerful Senators that South Dakota has ever had.”

Wadhams took issue with the efficacy of Daschle’s ad campaign.

“Daschle spent a lot of money on television from July through Thanksgiving, and clearly the public was not paying much attention,” he said. “That money has been spent to no avail.”

Hildebrand shot back, suggesting that the Thune campaign need not worry about the Daschle media effort.

“If John doesn’t think the public is paying attention he should stop worrying about our advertising, and we expect him to stay off the air for several months until he thinks the public is paying attention,” said Hildebrand.

Aside from the expenditures on television, Daschle also doled out $120,000 for survey research work to Al Quinlan, a partner in Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

Through DASHPAC, the South Dakota Senator paid out nearly $400,000 from 1999 to 2003 to the media consulting firm Squier Knapp Dunn for communications consulting. Anita Dunn, a partner in the firm, is a longtime Daschle adviser. Doug Hattaway, another senior Daschle adviser, received $124,000 between 1999 and 2003. Each served as Daschle’s main spokesman for a period in 2001.

The other major expenses through both the personal committee and DASHPAC went to staff salaries, and donations to other candidates and party committees.

Since 1999, Daschle has paid out more than $1.8 million in staff salaries.

The majority of that money — $1.1 million — came from DASHPAC.

Daschle’s personal campaign committee doled out $700,000 in the five-year period for a staff that now numbers more than 30.

The amount of money allocated to staff has risen exponentially over the past year.

According to the April 2003 quarterly report for “A Lot of People Supporting Tom Daschle” covering contributions and expenditures from Jan. 1 to March 31, he spent $39,000 on salaries. In the year-end report, documenting the final three months of 2003, nearly $200,000 went to salaries.

DASHPAC paid out $213,000 in salaries in 2003, averaging between $15,000 and $20,000 per month.

The large staff was part of an early effort to canvass the state, open headquarters and ramp up efforts sooner than in past cycles, said Daschle campaign officials. In 2004 alone, members of the campaign’s political team claim to have had personal contact with 72,000 voters in the state.

Even in the typically slow two years following his re-election in 1998, however, Daschle doled out more than $400,000 in salaries, $300,000 of that total through DASHPAC and another $100,000 through his personal campaign committee.

That spending is partly a function of Daschle’s role as the leader of his party in the Senate, and partly a result of the precarious position he occupies as a Democrat in a state increasingly dominated by Republicans, said knowledgeable Daschle aides.

Daschle has kept a full-time political operation running out of Washington since first being elected to the Senate in 1986 and also keeps a state director on staff full-time.

As party leader, Daschle has also contributed heavily from his personal accounts to the national party and other candidates.

Those donations total $1.6 million from 1999 until 2003, with $1.4 million of that coming from DASHPAC.

Details aside, the fundamental question regarding Daschle’s expenditures is whether the nearly $10 million he has spent has significantly changed his standing in the race against Thune.

Wadhams argued that Daschle is spending too much too soon for an electorate worn thin on politics by a brutal campaign between Thune and Sen. Tim Johnson (D) that saw the latter triumph by just 524 votes.

“The hangover in South Dakota after the last Senate race is still here,” said Wadhams.

To Democrats, Daschle’s spending has insulated him from future Republican attacks and broadened his appeal to independent voters and even some wavering GOPers, a must if he hopes to win in a state that gave President Bush 60 percent of the vote in 2000.

As an example of the type of spending necessary to win statewide as a Democrat, Daschle officials point to Johnson’s narrow victory in 2002.

Johnson spent roughly $7 million from his personal campaign committee, while the state party and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chipped in an additional $7.5 million.

With national party committees expected to play a scaled-back spending role after the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act prohibited them from raising and spending soft money, even more of the advertising onus will fall on Daschle, Democrats argue.

“The money is going to be there, and we expect to be able to run the campaign we had planned,” Hildebrand said.