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Norton amasses hefty war chest
(Published August 28, 2000)
By KATE ALEXANDER
U.S. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton heads into her re-election effort this fall armed with a hefty campaign war chest and facing little competition – from candidates with scant funds.
Sitting atop a nest egg of nearly $150,000, Norton has a decided financial advantage over her competitors, a consistent pattern throughout her five terms in the House of Representatives.
Federal Election Commission records show that in the campaigns since 1992, when the Republican Party last ran a committee-endorsed candidate, none of Norton’s competitors has raised more than $5,000, the threshold for publicly disclosing campaign finances.
At the same time, Norton has consistently amassed well over $100,000 per cycle for her re-election campaigns, with donations coming primarily from organized labor political action committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group that tracks money in politics.
In every one of those re-election campaigns, Norton has won lopsided victories over resource-poor third-party and independent candidates, running away with more than 85 percent of the vote.
Some third-party leaders said those victories are a foregone conclusion given Norton’s incumbency and fund-raising advantage, leaving many voices unheard.
"I wish there were a strong opposing candidate because she has not been a strong advocate of statehood…She has been far too accommodating to the Republicans (in Congress) and has not taken a strong stance," said Martin Thomas, a D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate for U.S. "shadow" representative in this fall’s elections.
But Jamin Raskin, a law professor at American University who has written extensively about the impact of campaign fundraising on democracy, does not attribute Norton’s electoral success to her disproportionate fundraising.
"I wholeheartedly agree with the general proposition that congressional incumbent fundraising drives out competition and political pluralism but, in the exceptional case of Eleanor Holmes Norton, no such fundraising is necessary because she is such a spectacular public servant," Raskin wrote in response to an e-mailed request for comment. "She is…the perfect representative of her progressive, multicultural constituency in the District. I think money has very little to do with her lack of opposition."
Republican leaders concurred, saying Norton’s fundraising is not an obstacle compared to their party’s problem of overcoming the heavily Democratic electorate of the District.
"It is hard to recruit a credible candidate not because of (Norton’s) fundraising but because Democrats outnumber Republicans 11 to one in the District," said Julie Finley, former D.C. GOP chairwoman. "It is too bad because this should be a two-party operation."
Donald Saltz, a 1994 Republican write-in candidate for delegate, said with the disproportionate number of Democrats in the District, the real competition for Norton has to come from within the Democratic Party.
Norton last faced Democratic competition in 1990 when she earned 39 percent of the vote in a five-way primary to fill the seat vacated by the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, who had held the position since its creation in 1971. She went on to win the five-way general election with 62 percent of the vote.
Norton did not make herself available for comment, but her campaign consultant, Karen Mulhauser said the continued fundraising is necessary for campaigning, even when Norton faces scant competition.
"If she is not running an active campaign, people would think she is taking for granted her constituency. Campaigns are about continuing the relationship with the constituency," Mulhauser said.
She also noted that much of Norton’s fundraising is passive, with people and organizations offering to contribute to her campaign effort rather than through aggressive fundraising events.
One such contributor – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 7,600 union members in the District – has been among Norton’s top donors for several years despite her non-voting status because "she has been there for our members on Capitol Hill," union spokeswoman Cheryl Kelly said.