Senators: Questions About Campaign Spending

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Purchasing power

"My father's favorite quote was from the Bible," Democratic Senatorial Candidate Mark Dayton, 35, told voters at a Minnesota pig roast. "To whomsoever much has been given, of him shall much be required." There is no doubt that to Dayton much has been given. Married to a Rockefeller and heir to a department-store fortune, he is dispensing large chunks of his assets (estimated as high as $30 million) to unseat Republican David Durenberger, 48, in November.

"How much is he spending?" Durenberger keeps asking voters. The answer: some $4.5 million so far and perhaps a record $8 million by Election Day. (Republican John Heinz, of the pickle-and-ketchup family, spent $2.6 million of his own money to win a Senate seat in Pennsylvania in 1976.)

Running a high-energy campaign fueled by peanut butter sandwiches and a concoction of fruit juices and protein powder, Dayton last week rolled over a lethargic comeback bid by former Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, 66, en route to the Democratic nomination. Joked McCarthy: "I'm not going to ask for a recount." Durenberger, meanwhile, faced only token opposition in the Republican primary but also campaigned with tireless zest.

A virtual unknown when he was elected in 1978 to fill the unexpired term of the late Hubert Humphrey, Durenberger has emerged as a thoughtful moderate Republican and a Senator of skill and character. Although Durenberger has his quarrels with the Administration's economic program, Dayton is trying to make the campaign into a referendum on Reaganomics. Low grain price's and high interest rates are forcing Minnesota farmers to the wall, while the depressed steel industry has led to rising unemployment among iron-ore miners. Calling for increased federal support for wheat and dairy farmers, Dayton quips, "It's not the farmers who are living off the fat of the land. It's the fat of the land who are living off the farmers." He has also campaigned against tax breaks for the wealthy, and promises "to close tax loopholes for the rich and the corporations—and if you think that includes the Daytons, you're right." And he adds, "If you don't believe it, look at how many members of my family are contributing to my opposition." Sure enough, as many as eight Dayton family members have helped fatten Durenberger's $2.2 million war chest.

Both sides agree that Durenberger is favored to return to Washington. But with a prime-time-television campaign war warming up, the outcome in November could hinge not on a candidate's purse but on his profile.

Playing PAC man

As Senate seats go, the ones in Montana come fairly cheap. Despite its huge size (147,138 sq. mi.), the state has only 413,000 registered voters, and a candidate's campaign can be financed for well under a million dollars. Yet money looms as the big issue in Republican Challenger Larry Williams' attempt to unseat Democratic Incumbent John Melcher.

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