Fund-raising Phil Gramm BY ALLAN FREEDMAN Washington, D.C. IT WAS ALL ANYBODY COULD TALK ABOUT: THE Speech.. Phil Gramm’s moment to impress us all as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. Pundits from Washington to Texas gathered around their television sets and prepared to be dazzled. Reporters considered the expectations. The question: Could Gramm shine on the national stage? After all, Gramm is an accomplished Texas pol. In 1984, helped by Reagan’s second landslide, Gramm was elected to the Senate, trouncing Democratic state Sen. Lloyd Doggett of Austin. In 1990, he followed up by smashing lackluster state Sen. Hugh Parmer of Fort Worth despite Parmer’s macho but unlikely pronouncement that he would kick Phil Gramm’s butt. But Gramm watchers the reporters and pundits who are fascinated by the meteoric rise of the junior senator from Texas have long wondered if Gramm had the makings of a successful presidential candidate. The GOP keynote was Gramm’s opportunity to define a vision, a Mario Cuomo-like sense of national community. Gramm could serve notice to his critics and his detractors that he was going places. Yet on that steamy August evening in Houston, Gramm’s address summed up what was to become obvious in the fall campaign the Grand Old. Party had a sense of past but no grasp of its future. The themes in the Gramm speech the end of Soviet tyranny, the failure of the Carter presidency, etc. had grown stale. And Gramm’s manner his Georgia drawl, his round, fleshy face made for awkward television. Even Gramm understood that an important moment had been lost. In October, he told a gathering of Washington reporters that he had considered reading from his keynote speech. He quipped, “I know many of you slept through it the first time.” Phil Gramm failed a crucial test in August and it is easy to dismiss him as a national candidate if only for his loyalty to an anachronistic conservative agenda. But Gramm’s strength has never only been about his ideas, despite his pronouncements to the contrary. He may be the Gramm of the Gramm-Rudman deficit reduction bill that, for all its ballyhoo, failed to reduce the deficit, but his political power stems from his ability to raise money and Allan Freedman is a former Observer editor This story was funded by the Institute for Alternative Journalism. provide constituent services. Even if Gramm lacks a reinvigorated message a must for any presidential candidate he is busy laying the foundation for the White House. He is building a national campaign just out of the public view, attacking the task with the fundraising acumen that has made him a prodigious force in Texas politics. Money is the lifeblood of politics and Phil Gramm always has a knack for raising dollars. Gramm has been proving his fundraising ability from the day he arrived in Washington in 1979, as a newly-elected Democratic Representative from College Station. He impressed colleagues in the House by boasting that he had netted $40,000 in contributions one day by starting on the top floor of an office building in his district and working his way to the ground floor. A decade later, the Democrat-turned-Republican had become absolutely decadent in his fundraising, as he pulled off a lavish 1989 Astrodome fundraiser. It was the largest of its kind, taking in more than $2 million, and featured a tribute by George Bush and praise from Charlton Heston. To bring in more dollars, Gramm used a 900 number to make giving easier. The Astrodome hoedown was about raising big dollars as well as scaring off challengers a pre-emptive strike to show potential rivals FILE PHOTO what they were up against. He raised enough money early on to discourage big-name Democrats from stepping into the ring, and brought nearly $16 million into his re-election bid. By contrast, Parmer raised a mere $1.7 million. Gramm has accepted money from a variety of sources, following the money at the Republican National Convention from one corporate-financed event to the next. One of his top contributors has been Houston-based First City Bancorp, which granted an Iraqi bank a $50 million loan in February 1989 to purchase agricultural commodities, according to Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. While Gramm’s re-election finance committee was pocketing some $25,000 from bank officials and First City’s PAC, Gramm himself took to the Senate floor in 1990 to argue that withholding agricultural aid to Iraq would be useless, “like responding to a bully by pulling out a gun, petting it to your head and saying if you keep threatening me I’ll shoot myself.” Indeed, Gramm seems to have taken a special liking to banking contributors. During the 1980s, he received $86,098 from S&L interests, according to a Common Cause report. Only five senators raised more money from S&Ls. When thrift reform legislation passed, Gramm hobbled the bill with amendments that made it impossible for regulators to seize bankrupt 10 NOVEMBER 7-13, 1992
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