Aug. 27, 2007 -- Presidential candidates aren't just spending a lot of money in Iowa this year. Some of them are giving it away.
Two Democratic candidates made sizable donations from their political action committees to Iowa lawmakers during the first six months of 2007 — even though this is not an election year.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois handed out $5,000 from his PAC, Hopefund, to each of the Democratic members of Iowa's congressional delegation: Sen. Tom Harkin and Reps. Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack. All of them are up for re-election in 2008.
Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware wrote some big checks to Democratic members of the Iowa Legislature through his PAC, Unite Our States. They include $5,000 for the campaign committee of Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines and $1,000 for Senate President Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg.
"(Candidates give) contributions to lawmakers, candidates or politicians as a way of cultivating their support," said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, which is affiliated with Georgetown University.
But those transactions involving lawmakers look puny in comparison with the money flowing from the presidential candidates to the Iowa Democratic and Republican parties ahead of the Iowa caucuses, which start the nominating process for the country.
During the first half of the year, the Iowa Democratic Party received more than $500,000 from presidential candidates. Payments from Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Biden and Obama topped $100,000 each.
It appears that most of the money was used to purchase the party's list of previous caucus attendees. "They pay to use our services, which in turn helps us put on the first-in-the-nation caucuses," said Mike Milligan, executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party.
The Iowa GOP took in more than $200,000 from the party's presidential candidates, according to candidate reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Several of the candidates made payments between $30,000 and $35,000.
Some of the money was spent on the candidates' participation in the state Republican Party's straw poll, held in Ames two weeks ago, and some was spent on acquiring the party's caucusgoer list.
The GOP also received a $17,500 donation from an organization headed by former House speaker Newt Gingrich. The donation enabled the group, American Solutions, to reserve space for a tent at the party's major fundraising event. Gingrich has said he will decide in the fall whether to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Party organizations in other key primary states also have received substantial payments from presidential campaigns since January, but no state has matched Iowa.
In New Hampshire, host of the first presidential primary, the Democratic and Republican parties took in about $245,000 altogether from presidential candidates during the first half of 2007.
The combined party totals for South Carolina, a leading Southern primary, topped $380,000. The Florida Republican Party received a total of $250,000 from former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Presidential candidates are likely to keep the checks coming in Iowa during the second half of 2007. Both parties have big fundraisers scheduled for the fall.
"It takes an incredible amount of effort and resources to host the caucuses, and the presidential campaigns have been very generous thus far," said Milligan, the Democratic Party official. "We have every reason to believe that they will continue to be generous in the future."
But Craig Robinson, political director of the Iowa Republican Party, looks for the presidential campaigns to shift resources.
"They've been cultivating the field for a very long time, and now the rubber meets the road," Robinson said. "It's time for them to get every vote that they can."
The Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 14 but could be held sooner.
The Iowa Republican and Democratic parties are also expected to mount aggressive — and expensive — campaigns in 2008 to help their congressional and legislative candidates.
Presidential candidates could decide to contribute to those electioneering efforts, or to use their political action committees to make donations directly to Iowa candidates. State law bars the transfer of money from one candidate's campaign to another's campaign.
In 2006, PACs formed by potential presidential candidates and by members of Congress spent more than $1.6 million on Iowa legislative contests, the race for governor and other state offices.
Presidential contenders also raise lots of money for Iowa candidates by using their star power to get other people to open up their checkbooks at fundraisers and other events. Four Democratic presidential candidates — Biden, Clinton, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and former senator John Edwards of North Carolina — took part in the annual Corn Boil fundraiser of state Rep. Polly Butka, Aug. 18 in Clinton.
McCarthy, the Iowa House majority leader, said everyone benefits. "We're spoiled in many ways by having the Iowa caucuses here," he said.
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