Crowded races could set fund- raising records

By Luke Engan

CNHI News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY ? Charles Campbell considers his 2004 political campaign a partial success.

In a battleground where candidates must raise ever larger campaign war chests to take office, Campbell drew the greatest reward from helping citizens not in a position to scribble their names on donation checks.

While knocking doors in District 27, which stretches from Slaughterville to McLoud to Asher, Campbell heard an elderly woman's voice, imploring him to let himself inside.

He found the woman on the floor where she told him she been for two hours. Campbell helped her up.

At another house, a senior woman sitting in a chair asked him to let himself in because she could not reach a nearby water glass. He filled the glass and handed it to her.

For Campbell, a man who pins helping seniors as his political goal, his experiences helping the women made the campaign worthwhile.

But if Campbell won the battle, he lost the war. Rep. Shane Jett, R-Tecumseh, won the office he sought.

Reflecting later, at a meeting of the Silver Haired Legislature in the state Capitol, Campbell said candidates are forced to raise a higher pile of dollars than ever before.

It is no longer a game for people without a knack for political fundraising.

In 2002, Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin's last re-election, four candidates spent more than $1.35 million. Fallin's war chest of nearly $983,000 comprised 73 percent of the money dropped in the race.

By contrast, the 11 lieutenant governor candidates in 1990 spent less than $1.1 million combined, 56 percent spent by winner Jack Mildren.

Oklahoma bars candidate committees from accepting corporate money.

House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, said he is willing to spend "whatever it takes" to win the lieutenant governor's seat. He announced his candidacy Oct. 10 after Fallin declared her bid for Congress.

He expects to spend more than $1 million for sure ? and as much as $2 million, depending on who opposes him.

Political action committees might get in on the race as well. They can accept corporate donations, but the law forbids them to support candidates. They promote issues instead.

The candidates' committees cover operations and efforts to turn voters toward candidates. Charlie Meadows, head of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, aims to raise $100,000 in his bid for the seat U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., will vacate to run against Gov. Brad Henry.

Meadows intends to stretch his campaign dollars. The Republican said any candidate who needs more than $100,000 to communicate adequately with the central Oklahoma district is "akin to a big-spending liberal."

Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Tulsa, announced Oct. 20 that he is running against Hiett.

He has not yet set a fund-raising goal.

Sen. Nancy Riley, R-Tulsa, said the time between her Oct. 24 announcement she is running for lieutenant governor and the July 2006 primary date is a "short period of time to get our message out."

She said voters need the time to hear from candidates. She denied the time is to accumulate campaign dollars.

Riley said she picked her announcement date after Hiett's announcement when she knew Pruitt's was set.

Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, also seeks the lieutenant governor's office. She declined to comment.

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