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  • Kasich rakes in local cash

    August 2, 1998

    By Jonathan Riskind
    Dispatch Washington Bureau

    WASHINGTON -- If money fuels national politics, U.S. Rep. John R. Kasich leaves the starting line with a powerful push from a few of his friends.

    In 18 months, the Westerville Republican's two fund-raising committees have brought in just less than $2.5 million for his re-election bid and national political posturing.

    Much of the money came from Kasich's central Ohio supporters and several wealthy families outside the state, Federal Election Commission reports show.

    Through a leadership political action committee, Kasich has increased exponentially the amount backers can pump into his efforts to explore a presidential bid and to campaign in congressional districts nationwide on behalf of his party.

    He launched his Pioneer PAC in 1996 and also has a congressional committee for his fall re-election efforts.

    Through March 30, a relatively small number of people -- most giving as couples or larger family units -- have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the two committees, according to a computer database requested by The Dispatch that combines the contributions.

    During the 1997-98 election cycle, 20 families -- primarily longtime supporters and Columbus-area movers and shakers or wealthy out-of-state families -- gave Kasich nearly $500,000, the records show.

    Each of those families gave more than $14,000, and their combined total represents about a third of the $1.6 million in individual contributions Kasich received to that point. Including the four dozen or so individuals and families who contributed more than $10,000 each raises the total to nearly $900,000.

    The maximum contribution to a congressional committee during an election cycle is $2,000 a person, but an individual can give up to $10,000 per cycle to a leadership committee such as Pioneer PAC.

    A big-bucks backer, then, can give as much as $12,000 and a couple as much as $24,000.

    "I've been a supporter of John's for years,'' said Donald Freytag, a Dublin consultant who with his wife, Elizabeth, contributed $24,000 to both committees. "We did what we could for him.''

    Raising a lot of money from just a few people, though, skirts the spirit of limits on individual giving, said Sheila Krumholz, research director of Citizens for Responsive Politics, a campaign-spending watchdog group based in Washington.

    "He's not doing anything illegal or even unethical,'' she said. "He's doing what is smart.''

    But Krumholz worries that big givers might gain special access to a candidate.

    "When one family or a handful of people can deliver $40,000 at a pop, you're leaning toward those bad old days of large sums of money coming from very few sources or a singular source.''

    Kasich said he needs to raise money from his local base as a way to rev up for any presidential bid he might make. His longtime sup porters, he said, don't seek favors.

    Monthly PAC reports indicate that the pattern of giving to Kasich continued through June 30, the most recent deadline for campaign-finance reporting.

    His total contributions from individuals had reached about $2 million as of June 30, with interest groups and corporate PACs chipping in about $433,000.

    In all, Kasich's congressional committee had raised nearly $1.2 million and his leadership committee about $1.25 million as of June 30.

    The congressman, who in November is expected to win a ninth term in the House, would be able to use money from his congressional committee for a presidential bid.

    For now, Kasich is using money in the leadership PAC to pay for travel to other states to help get his name out and to increase the amount of money he can give to other GOP candidates.

    Contributors say they expect nothing in return, whether Kasich stays in Congress in a leadership role or runs for president. They include an array of professionals -- many of whom began backing him politically in 1983 when he was a freshman member of Congress.

    "I supported John ever since he went into Congress, and I knew him in the Statehouse (as a state senator from 1979 to '83),'' said R. David Thomas of Dublin, founder of Wendy's. "I don't know where he is going to go, but I think he's good for America.''

    Thomas and his wife gave Kasich $20,000 as of March 30.

    John F. Wolfe, publisher of The Dispatch, and his wife, Ann, gave $10,750 through that time, the database shows.Mrs.Wolfe also is a leading central Ohio fund-raiser for Kasich's Pioneer PAC.

    Many donors said they gave large amounts to Kasich, whose initiatives include a war on corporate welfare, because he seems unfazed by special interests or the business community. Several supporters, speaking on condition of anonymity, said as a result, Kasich receives a relatively small proportion of his money from special-interest groups.

    Michael Egan, a Massachusetts investor whose family so far has given Kasich $43,000, said he was impressed by Kasich's response to a group of Massachusetts businessmen when he was asked about the value of the Small Business Administration.

    Instead of saying a few words about the agency's importance and moving on, Egan said, Kasich acknowledged that a bureaucrat in Washington doesn't necessarily know what's best for a business. He added that if a business owner finds it tough to get a loan from a local bank, perhaps he or she is doing something wrong.

    "He doesn't tell you what you want to hear,'' Egan said. "He tells you what he thinks.''

    At a July 12 meeting at Columbus' Radisson Airport Hotel -- and a subsequent gathering at the home of Leslie H. Wexner, founder of The Limited -- about 65 big donors were asked to generate more money through Oct. 1 to help Kasich campaign for GOP candidates.

    "The idea . . . is to expand the fund-raising base and expand it this year so (Pioneer PAC) can give more money to candidates'' in the fall, said Karen Johnson, Pioneer PAC executive director.

    If Kasich hopes to mount a serious bid for the 2000 Republican nomination and compete with potential candidates such as Texas Gov. George W. Bush, he'll need to raise millions more and develop a national base of large givers, political observers say.

    As of March 30, he had received more than $734,000 from just five ZIP codes in the Columbus area while contributions from the most generous five states outside Ohio totaled less than $283,000.

    Kasich said he realizes that his fund-raising base must expand into states such as New York, New Jer sey, Pennsylvania and California.

    Still, he said, he hopes to raise even more from central Ohioans and is beginning to branch out into Cleveland and Cincinnati.

    Elizabeth Victor of the Dispatch Washington Bureau assisted with computer database research for this story.


    Copyright © 1998, The Columbus Dispatch