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July 06, 2005

Evans, the GOP and 2006....

``We probably made some mistakes. If I made a mistake, if my campaign committee made a mistake, we did it with the best of intentions.''

- U. S. Rep. Lane Evans of Rock Island, Feb. 2, 2004, commenting on a Federal Election Commission suit alleging fund-raising illegalities in his 1998 and 2000 campaigns.

Rep. Evans hasn't personally discussed the topic since he agreed last week to pay $185,000 to settle the FEC complaint, but his spokesman, Steve Vetzner, sounded a less conciliatory note when he said, "I think our supporters recognize that this has been a witch hunt, and they don't want to see Lane weakened by this." The suit was settled, Mr. Vetzner said, only because of the time and expense required to win vindication in court.

Be that as it may, reading through all the FEC filings makes it difficult to believe anything other than that Rep. Evans gamed the system to get some extra funds into the closely fought '98 and '00 elections, during which the Republicans came up with a combined total of well more than $2 million for the Mark Baker campaigns.

And the settlement, inescapably, hands Republicans a giant club with which they will enthusiastically beat Rep. Evans about the head and shoulders in what is sure to be a bitter 2006 contest.

Nevertheless, the GOP has an uphill battle as it tries to deny him a 13th term in Congress.
The Republicans' first problem is the bizarrely gerrymandered 17th District, which gives any Democrat a big step up.

Their second problem is the ancient political axiom that holds "you can't beat somebody with nobody." Of the three Republicans who've announced they want the seat, Andrea Zinga, the former TV newswoman who lost to Rep. Evans in 2004, comes closest to escaping the "nobody" tag.

But she lost big, 61-39, and is still saddled with some $81,000 in debt from the 2004 run, including s $50,000 personal loan. The two others, Brian Gilliland of Aledo and Jim Mowen of Rock Island are starting from zero in name recognition and financing. And a primary contest will only aggravate money problems.

The Republicans' third problem is, well, Rep. Evans. Love him or hate him, he is somebody.
On the day the FEC settlement news broke, he was in a committee hearing attacking the Bush administration for failing to anticipate the drain on Veterans Administration funds created by the war in Iraq. Incidentally, he voted against invading Iraq, a principled stand that looks ever smarter as time goes by. And in 20-plus years in Congress, he's accumulated a lot of friends across a spectrum of issues.

His health (Parkinson's Disease) is of concern to friends as well as foes, but making a major issue of it is risky business - talking about it can easily seem mean-spirited and has a big backlash potential.

My unlearned view: If the GOP is serious about beating Rep. Evans in 2006, it needs to find a consensus candidate, perhaps some "name" not yet in the race, one big enough to convince the party's money people to once again pour $1 million or so into the effort to take him down.

Failing that, I'm guessing Mr. Evans, FEC warts and all, gets that 13th term.

Evans and 2006, incidentally, is the subject of a lively discussion on Rich Miller's Capitol Fax.


John Beydler is news editor of Quad Cities Online; email johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at July 6, 2005 04:02 PM

Comments

All most campaign finance regulations do is require campaigns to form new committees, file more papers, and shuffle money around in a new way. Its a waste of time for candidates who should be campaigning with the public instead of making endless calls for $2,000 checks. What the Evans campaign did is no different than what thousands of other candidates for office at every level of government are doing, but I guess there was some magic hoop he didn't jump through. I have a hard time caring.

Posted by: DownLeft at July 6, 2005 04:24 PM

It is pretty hard to get very excited about the ins and outs of a system designed to do the impossible. Money is undeniably a form of political speech, and controlling it will inevitablly prove to be an exercise in frustration.

Make sure there's a first-rate disclosure system so that I can follow the money, and give away to your heart's content -- forget all the crap about who can give how much under this circumstance or that.

The money information already is generally available, easily so in the wonderful world of the internet. The Federal Election Commission has all the original money data.

Organizations like opensecrets.org and Project Vote Smart stick the FEC numbers into databases that allow tracking the money by industry sector, interest groups and geographic orgination -- as well as linking issues to interest groups. Pretty much all that's needed to follow the bouncing ball.

I am, perhaps foolishly, optimistic that as more and more people realize that 30 minutes at a computer will give them more real information than a couple of thousand of those dreadful tv ads, the ads will lose their influence.

Nothing wrong with dreaming.


Posted by: jcb at July 7, 2005 12:19 AM