IT SAID in the paper yesterday that...


IT SAID in the paper yesterday that Sen. Paul Sarbanes has raised $290,000 for his re-election bid. Ninety-five percent of his contributors and 93 percent of his contributions came from out of state.

It seems to me I've heard this song before.

In 1982, Sarbanes was running for re-election to the Senate for the first time. He was one of the top targets of national right-wingers. An organization called "Nick-pack" -- the National Conservative Political Action Committee -- said it would spend what it took to defeat him.

The organization specifically, and conservative groups in particular, were really feeling their oats. They'd seen Ronald Reagan elected president in 1980. In that year they had targeted several senators who, like Sarbanes, were solid Americans for Democratic Action-certified liberals. The political world was astounded when Sens. Birch Bayh of Indiana, Frank Church of Idaho, John Culver of Iowa, George McGovern of South Dakota and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin were ousted by conservatives. So were other Democrats, including moderate liberals John Durkin of New Hampshire and Warren Magnuson of Washington. A couple of conservative Democrats were beaten by even more conservative Republicans.

The Republican Party won control of the Senate for the first time in a quarter of a century. These new Republican senators were so conservative (Dan Quayle was the one who beat Birch Bayh) that wags in the press gallery started referring to the place as The Senate of the Apes.

Were Sarbanes and the other liberals going the way of 1980? A lot of people thought so. Sarbanes came in to alert Sun editorial writers to the nature of the threat. Nick-pack was soliciting tens of thousands of dollars from outside of Maryland! In behalf of Rep. Lawrence Hogan of Prince George's County, his Republican opponent! Outsiders were trying to buy a Maryland Senate seat.

He tore his hair! He rent his garments! He sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and the Colts fight song!

In part because of that (small part, actually) we came to his rescue. That is, we endorsed him.

Now, Nick-pack did indeed funnel money into the state from outside. It spent in Hogan's behalf about $700,000, almost all of it from out of state. But Sarbanes got more outside help than Hogan. He ended up spending a total of $1.6, double Hogan's effort. And he won, defeating poor Hogan by 300,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast.

Conservatives' dream of glory became a nightmare. Every liberal Democrat on the target list won re-election with ease. Sarbanes, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. George Mitchell, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Rep. Thomas Foley and many more of your favorites, most of whom are still working in your behalf in Washington, D.C., today.

I don't see anything wrong with out-of-state campaign contributions. Some people do. They want to ban it.

Monday: There oughtta be a law?

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