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Newspaper- Gephardt group raised funds in redistricting battle
ST. LOUIS -- House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt's political organization raised $230,000 in large unregulated contributions -- mostly from out-of-state donors -- to fund his Missouri redistricting battle, according to a newspaper report.
Gephardt, the Democratic congressman from St. Louis County, collected the money through a special committee that redistricting experts consider unusual but not unique, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday.
The figures were disclosed in a report filed last month with the Internal Revenue Service.
Campaign finance watchdogs said Gephardt's move was not surprising and illustrated the need for broad reform of the nation's election laws. Some Republicans question why wealthy out-of-state contributors would try to affect Missouri's redistricting process.
"It raises some red flags and raises some concerns," said state Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.
The committee allowed Gephardt to raise large donations not subject to federal election laws, and Gephardt's staff quietly raised funds as the redistricting battle unfolded in Jefferson City.
At the redistricting process' outset, Republicans had vowed to redraw Gephardt into a more conservative district in the hopes of defeating him next year. But Gephardt's allies -- led by Joyce Aboussie, his national political director -- won approval for a map that put him in a more Democratic-leaning district than his current boundaries.
The committee spent about $214,000, mostly on staff salaries, computer services and mapping data.
Gephardt's staff set up the Missouri Redistricting Committee in December 1999, though reports filed under a new disclosure law show the panel only started receiving donations this year.
Almost half the money Gephardt raised for this committee came from New York investor Harold Snyder and California high-tech executive David Shimmon. Each gave $50,000. Union Pacific Corp., California billionaire Marvin Davis and self-employed Texas investor Robert Green each contributed $25,000. The only Missouri contribution: $25,000 from James B. Nutter & Co., a Kansas City mortgage firm.
Erik Smith, a Gephardt spokesman, said the committee was a legitimate effort to counter a Republican-led campaign to target Gephardt's seat, and "what you see in this report is national Democrats responding."
The committee reported its purpose as advocating a redistricting plan to benefit incumbent Democrats. But a source familiar with the committee told the Post-Dispatch it was implicit the fund would help protect Gephardt's seat.
Green, the Texas investor, said that as a Democratic supporter and longtime Gephardt backer, he felt he had a "vested interest" in making sure Gephardt was re-elected.
"Not withstanding his long length of service, he's never won with overwhelming vote counts," Green said, adding that his donation came after he wondered "Can I help in some way?"
According to the report, the committee spent $108,000 for computer services and mapping data from Aboussie's Telephone Contact Inc., a polling and telemarketing firm.
The committee's report shows that Gephardt had at least four staffers assigned to the redistricting effort, who were paid about $60,000 from January to June of this year. About $40,000 went to a payroll company for taxes, and $5,000 was spent on a credit card bill.
Fred Wertheimer, head of the Democracy 21 group advocating campaign-finance reform, said he didn't think Gephardt's move to raise such funds undercut his commitment to campaign reform.
"I weigh that against the fact that Democratic leader Gephardt is doing an extraordinary job of trying to change the system," he said.