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Ashcroft pushes contributed money back into nationwide mail campaign

Wednesday, July 22, 1998

By Jon Sawyer
Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON -- Half of every dollar Sen. John Ashcroft has raised this year for his political action committee has been plowed back into direct-mail advertising, as the Missouri Republican builds a nationwide list of donors for a possible presidential bid in 2000.

Ashcroft has spent most weekends this year trolling for cash, at fund-raisers attended by well-heeled contributors from coast to coast. Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission reveal a strong response, with Ashcroft exceeding his goal in the first six months of raising $1 million for the entire year.

Some of the money has funded travel, staff and office expenses for Spirit of America, Ashcroft's leadership PAC. A tiny portion, just $1,000 so far, has gone to conservative Republican candidates - the people Ashcroft pegged as prime beneficiaries when he announced last year that he was setting up a leadership PAC.

The biggest share by far, $529,903 as of June 30, has gone to direct-mail companies - most of them controlled by or associated with E. Bruce Eberle, a suburban Washington consultant who got his start raising money for Ronald Reagan in the mid-1970s and most recently handled fund-raising chores for Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state worker whose lawsuit accused President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

"Our direct-mail operation is making money, and we're very pleased," said Jack Oliver, executive director of Spirit of America. "We're prospecting for money all over the country."

Oliver asserted that the expenditure on direct-mail solicitations has already paid off. He said the appeals had brought in almost a half-million dollars this year in contributions of less than $200, which do not have to be itemized in the FEC report, plus an unspecified but substantial portion of the larger donations that are identified by donor and amount.

Total receipts for the PAC were $729,180 in the second quarter and $1.038 million for the year.

Oliver said he was unaware of Eberle's work for Jones. He declined to make available any of the material Eberle has mailed out for Ashcroft. He said the most successful mailers were those on taxes, particularly Ashcroft's call for making the Social Security payroll tax deductible on income tax returns and for ending the so-called "marriage penalty" in tax rates.

None of the direct-mail solicitations has focused exclusively on criticism of Clinton, Oliver said, but he is mentioned in all.

Oliver defended the PAC's failure to make any significant donations to other candidates. The only one listed this year is a $1,000 contribution to the re-election campaign of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

"We've said all along that we intend to hold our money . . . to see which races tighten up and where we can have the most impact," he said.

Oliver predicted that the second half of this year would show a sharp increase in expenditures for other candidates.

The latest FEC report adds a number of prominent names to the roster of Ashcroft financial backers, from Bill Gates ($1,000), founder of Microsoft, to Richard Scaife Mellon ($4,000), the millionaire publisher.

Gates was one of several computer industry leaders who met with Ashcroft this spring, supporting his legislation to protect computer encryption devices from government code-breakers. Scaife is associated with backing conservative investigations of Clinton including the Paula Jones case, the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas and questions about the suicide in 1993 of Vincent Foster, then the White House deputy counsel.

Ashcroft reported receiving $5,000 from Sam Fox, chief executive of Harbour Group in Clayton, and $5,000 each from Menlo Smith, chairman of Sunmark Capital Corp., and his wife, Mary Jean Smith. The Hunter Engineering PAC of Bridgeton contributed $5,000, as did the Anheuser-Busch PAC.

Donations of $1,000 each came from political action committees associated with Emerson Electric Co., TWA, Boeing and the Eagle Forum, an organization identified with Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative activist from Ladue. SBC Telecommunications Inc. has proved fertile territory as well, with Ashcroft's PAC pocketing $7,300 over the last three months from a dozen different executives, mostly in Texas.

Ashcroft's FEC report shows no money coming in from tobacco interests. He has said that he will accept no help from the industry, notwithstanding the leading role he played in killing this spring's attempt at comprehensive tobacco legislation.

The report shows a $500 contribution from C. Boyden Gray of Washington, son
of a former chairman of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Gray is better known as the
Washington attorney who served as counsel to former President George Bush.

Copyright (c) 1998, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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