Lots of political money going out of state

Saturday, September 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Clinton Haters and the Clinton Lovers held separate get-togethers last month in Oklahoma.

The result: more than $200,000 in political donations went to New York, of all places, for the U.S. Senate race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Rick Lazio.

Mrs. Clinton and Lazio were among a growing list of candidates from outside Oklahoma who have come to the state in search of campaign cash this year.

They include U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla. who is running for the Senate post held by the retiring Connie Mack, and incumbent Sens. Spence Abraham, R-Mich., and John Ashcroft, R-Mo.

So what goes here? How has Oklahoma become a Mecca for political contributions for candidates in other states?

Part of the reason is that Oklahoma is in a 12-year election cycle when there are no major statewide races on the general election ballot, says Steve Edwards, state Republican chairman.

``It is kind of unusual,'' adds Gordon Melson, executive director of the state Democratic Party, who suggests that it is the reflection of a number of things, including closer links between people of different states because of the Internet and television.

``Another thing is that I think the national economy is so good that people apparently have money to give not only to their in-state candidates but to those out of state.''

Whatever the reason, it was a strange sight last week in Mike Turpen's northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood as well-wishers wore New York 2000 stickers as they greeted Mrs. Clinton and on a street dotted by signs touting the campaign of Rick Lazio.

Turpen and his wife, Susan, played host to Mrs. Clinton and was jubilant in announcing that Oklahoma Democrats had raised $103,250 for her New York campaign. In one sense, he said, Democrats were saying ``thank you for eight great years'' under President Clinton.

Lazio's fundraiser earlier in the month at the Waterford Hotel was not publicized, but he also reaped about $100,000, Edwards said.

``I think most of the money he got was from what I would classify as Clinton haters,'' Melson said.

Edwards said the visit of Mrs. Clinton would help GOP fund-raising efforts. ``I would have paid the plane ticket to get her here,'' he quipped.

Both Melson and Edwards denied the extra cash going out of state would hurt in-state GOP and Democratic candidates.

``Most of the people who were there probably have helped Oklahoma candidates as well,'' Melson said. ``I don't think it drained off any money.''

Mentioning the lack of a U.S. Senate contest or gubernatorial race in the state, Edwards said: ``I think candidates around the country are looking for places they can go to raise funds and not step on anybody's toes.''

Apparently, Oklahoma fits that criteria this year.

As last week came to an end, the campaigns of Democratic candidates in the 2nd and 6th Congressional Districts received a financial lift through fund-raising visits to Oklahoma City and Tulsa by Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., House minority leader.

Gephardt, who wants to regain control of Congress for Democrats, was accompanied by Patrick Kennedy of Massachusetts, as he attended fundraisers in Oklahoma City for Randy Beutler of Elk City, the Democratic nominee facing incumbent Republican Frank Lucas of Cheyenne.

Democrats are given the best shot of gaining a congressional seat this year in the 2nd District, where newcomer Brad Carson of Claremore is going up against Muskogee area car dealer Andy Ewing.

Melson said the fact that Gephardt campaigned in Oklahoma City as well as Tulsa supports the argument that Lucas could be vulnerable this year.

``Gephardt could have flown direct to Tulsa for the 2nd District race,'' he said. ``The fact that he came to Oklahoma City shows the 6th District race is gradually capturing the attention of the Congressional Campaign Committee.''

Although the number of congressional candidates raising funds in Oklahoma may be a record, the state has long had a record of giving in national campaigns.

In fact, Edwards said, Oklahoma led the nation with the highest per capita number of Republican Eagles in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

That's why Oklahoma City was one of three cities in the nation picked for Ronald Reagan's ``prelude to victory'' celebration in 1979 before his successful run for the presidency, the state GOP official said.

To become a Republican Eagle requires contributions of $15,000.