RRA writing seminar Dec. 8

Sign up now for the Regional Reporters Association and the Freedom Forum Writing Seminar set for Dec. 8.

Keynote speaker Geneva Overholser, ombudsman for The Washington Post and former editor of the Des Moines Register, as well as Associated Press reporter Tom Raum, USA Today senior writer J. Taylor Buckley and others will be on hand for this half-day writing workshop for regional reporters.
The seminar will be from 8 a.m. to noon at the Newseum Education Center, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Rosslyn. It is free, but advance registration is required. RSVP: Ellyn Ferguson at 703-276-5811 or by

November 1997

On your mark: Get set for 1998 races

By Ellyn Ferguson
Gannett News Service

Be ready for anything in the 1998 congressional races, although most races look like snoozers a year out. Open seats are the hot spots on the horizon.

Thomas E. Mann, governmental studies director at the Brookings Institution, predicted that next year's races will lack the political pizzazz of presidential years 1992 and 1996 and the seismic implications of 1994's ěContract with America,î which gave Republicans control of Congress.

Barring an economic nose dive or a major international crisis, races for the House and the Senate likely will not turn on national concerns, Mann said. The public's general content with the economy, a lack of strong challengers and what appears to be risk aversion by both major parties will add up to dull races, he said. Still, he said, there may be ěhand to hand combatî in some races, especially for open seats.

The Democrats had their Waterloo in 1994, and Mann does not see a repeat blood bath for the party. He also does not see the Democrats making much headway in regaining seats, especially in the House.

Mann's view on the influence of national issues is shared by Stuart Roy of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Stephanie Cohen of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But Roy hastened to hold the door open on the matter: ěA year is a lifetime in politics.î

Roy considers taxes a likely universal theme in contests, but local concerns will determine how much of a role the issue plays. For example, Republican gubernatorial candidate James Gilmore in Virginia boosted himself past his Democratic opponent, Don Beyer, largely by vowing to roll back an unpopular car tax in the state.

Roy said tax issues in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., also played a big role in Republican Vito Fossellaís victory over Democrat Eric Vitaliano.

Pocketbook issues in one form or another should play key roles in the still-evolving Senate races, Roy said. The NRSC is focusing on five open seats -- Arkansas, Indiana, Idaho, Ohio and Kentucky -- and is eyeing what it considers vulnerable Democratic incumbents in California, Illinois, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin.

Notwithstanding the predictions of dullness, Paul Hendric of the Center for Responsive Politics said regional reporters can start preparing for the upcoming races.

ěI think you're going to see hugely expensive campaigns. The Democrats ideally want to win back one or both houses. I think they want to draw the line and not lose anywhere. Republicans want to cement their position,î said Hendric, the communications director for the nonpartisan center, which serves as a watchdog on campaign spending.

Hendric suggested that reporters covering incumbents should dust off old campaign finance reports, financial disclosure documents and filings on privately financed travel to review relationships between lawmakers and interest groups.

ěSometimes you find little tidbits,î Hendric said.

He said groups involved in advertising in the race or conducting voter registration should be scrutinized to see if they have any ties to candidates in a race. If the groups are tax-exempt, Hendric said reporters can request copies of the 990-PF tax forms they file with the Internal Revenue Service.

(Request the forms from the IRS or the groups directly. In addition the library of the Foundation Center has on microfiche the 990-PF returns for 501 (c)(3) private foundations and some 509 public charities, which are defined as relying on the general public for funding. Call the Foundation Center at 202-331-1400.)

To get a better feel for a challenger, Hendric suggested that reporters check newspaper web sites and conduct electronic database searches for past stories. Many candidates also now have Internet pages that provide the basics.

It can pay to follow the money trail

By Jim Kuhnhenn
The Kansas City Star

Last March, Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee were having trouble getting Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee to issue subpoenas for records from Bob Doleís campaign and a handful of organizations that had helped Republican candidates during the 1996 elections.

I wrote a story that not only mentioned the Dole angle but also cited two organizations Democrats wanted to subpoena: Citizens for the Republic Education Fund and Citizens for Reform, both of which had sponsored ads in Kansas congressional races.

After my story appeared, a colleague in our Topeka office called to ask whether the subpoenas requested contributor names. It was widely suspected in Kansas that Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's wealthy in-laws, John and Ruth Stauffer, had financed the Citizens for Reform ad. That suspicion, though, took us on a totally different track. Curious about the Stauffers, I ran their names through the Federal Election Commissionís electronic campaign finance records. As expected, I found the Stauffers had reached the legal limit on what they could contribute to Brownback. But my computer search showed they also gave to eight political action committees.

Under federal law, an individual may give $1,000 to each candidate per election ($1,000 each for the primary and the general). They can give up to $5,000 to a political action committee per calendar year. And the combined maximum they can give -- to candidates plus PACs -- is $25,000 per year.

I checked their '88, '92 and '94 donation records and found the Stauffers had been largely inactive, for the most part contributing only to Brownback's '94 House race.

Then I checked the PACs. Each of them had given to Brownback. But what struck me was that they were giving to him in the primary; although these were ideologically conservative PACs, they were willing to spend against other Republicans.

Brownback was in a tight race against Sheila Frahm, the interim senator designated by Kansas's Republican governor to temporarily fill the seat Dole had just vacated to focus on his presidential bid. Brownback had been inching up from a 22-point deficit in the polls. With the election in early August, he needed help in July.

I compared the Stauffers' donations list with that of the PACs. The dates immediately popped out:

And so it went. Some of the PACs gave to Brownback days before they got a Stauffer contribution. Some made the Brownback contribution shortly afterward. Some gave more than the Stauffers gave. Some gave less.

The key was that the Stauffers gave to no other PAC. Every PAC they gave to gave to Brownback, too. And it all took place within a three-week period.

Then I hit the phones.

The Stauffers, the PACs and the Brownback campaign deny they coordinated the transactions. The FEC now has a compliant before it, filed by Kansas Democrats.

As it turns out, bank records obtained by Senate investigators do not list the Stauffers as contributors to the non-profit groups that ran the big ads in Kansas. The tip that got us started, as can often be the case, led us toward a different direction.

The lesson here is that we should all use computerized FEC records in creative ways. Cross-match the data whenever you can. To look for patterns, look for individuals who have reached their contribution limits for a particular candidate, then run their names to see where else they have been giving. Then check the records of the recipients to find out where the money went.

Of course, remember to verify your data with paper or microfilm records at the FEC. Don't rely exclusively on the computer data because they can be incomplete and can contain errors.

If you don't have an FEC account and need to make a quick search, try the Center for Responsive Politics site on the Web at Or try, a site maintained by a former FEC official. To set up an FEC account through the Direct Access Program, call 202-219-3730. No web access is needed, just a modem.

To read Jim's story online, go to Click on Star Library, and search for "Stauffer." Under author, type "Kuhnhenn." Use search collection 1997. The story was published March 15,

Paul Miller fellowships available

Applications for the 1998-99 Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellowships will be available from The Freedom Forum in December.

The yearlong program gives Washington-based regional reporters who are new to the beat a chance to meet some of Washington's biggest movers and shakers, and learn the ropes from veteran reporters. Reporters wishing to apply may request an application from Cheryl Arvidson, program director.

Requests can be mailed to 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va., 22209, or reporters can call Arvidson at 703-284-3507. Her e-mail is Be sure to include name and mailing address. Applications are due Feb. 15, 1998. The program begins in May.

Board minutes

The Regional Reporters Association board is taking an active role helping Investigative Reporters and Editors organize its weeklong Washington conference in January.

At its Nov. 3 meeting, the RRA board agreed to offer suggestions on panels and speakers dealing with campaign finance, Washington reporting and investigative projects.

The board also recommended providing scholarships through its sister organization, the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation, so some regional reporters can attend the conference for free.

The board directed RRA President Jerry Zremski to write to the RREF to request the funds.

Board members also discussed an upcoming 1998 membership drive to swell RRA's ranks, as well as limiting mail distribution of the RRA newsletter to dues-paying members.

Restive Regions

Ottaway News Service is laying off much of its Washington staff as of January. Winston Wood, news editor and copy editor, is leaving. So are reporters Polly Elliott, who writes for papers in Minnesota, Michigan and Missouri, and Robb Frederick, who writes for papers in Pennsylvania and Kentucky. Three reporters and one editor will remain.

Peter Urban is the new Washington correspondent for the Connecticut Post, replacing Lolita Baldor, now the Washington correspondent for the New Haven Register. Peter was the state capital reporter for the Record-Journal of Meriden, Conn., before moving to Washington.

Donna Leinwand, former poverty and social services reporter for the Miami Herald, is a new Washington correspondent for Knight-Ridder, reporting for three Florida newspapers: the Boca Raton News, the Bradenton Herald and the Tallahassee Democrat.

Paul Anderson has been named assistant managing editor for legislative affairs at Congressional Quarterly's Weekly Report magazine. Anderson joined CQ in 1995 as editor of defense and foreign policy. He was a Washington correspondent for the Miami Herald before that.

Joseph Garcia has left Gannett News Service to work for CommunicationWorks, a public affairs company in D.C. with education clients. At Gannett, Garcia wrote for the Honolulu Advertiser and covered national defense policy. Before that, he was an education reporter for the Dallas Morning News.

At The Associated Press, Melissa Robinson is back from a maternity leave. Her fill-in for the southern New England beat, Jonathan Salant, moved to the APís national staff.

-- Jill Miller,
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinal

Got news? Call Jill Young Miller at (202) 824-8225, or

EPA announces smog targets at RRA event

Carol Browner, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, met with regional reporters on Oct. 10 to discuss new anti-smog targets -- an hour before she met with the national media.

EPA approached the Regional Reporters Association to request a meeting with regionals. That request came three months after a previous meeting with Browner attracted about 35 regional reporters.

RRA President Jerry Zremski said that EPA's eagerness to meet with RRA members demonstrates that the group is building some clout with an agency that otherwise might have strictly focused on the national media in making its announcement.

Zremski said RRA hopes to build similarly strong relationships with other cabinet agencies so that when they have news to discuss, regional reporters will have quick access to it.

About 20 regionals attended the most recent session with Browner, who detailed new anti-smog targets for 22 states. The state-by-state targets primarily affect Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. In general, the targets aim to crack down on dirty, antiquated coal-fueled power plants in the Midwest, which the EPA believes would cut down on smog in the East.

The anti-smog targets are the EPA's first-ever attempt to control pollution that drifts from one part of the country to another. Currently, much of the Northeast's smog is caused by those coal-fired power plants in the Midwest.

EPA is expected to finalize the targets next fall after a yearlong comment period.

Regionals seeking Press Club positions

Several RRA members are running for positions on the National Press Club's Board of Governo rs:

The NPC election is Dec. 12.

Census offers CD-ROM set

By Jerry Zremski
The Buffalo News

An October briefing with Census Bureau officials produced more than a good regional story.

During the briefing, held to release data on county business patterns, a complaint by RRA member Ed Felker of Small Newspapers prompted a promise from the Census Bureau to supply the National Press Club library with complimentary copies of the agency's CD-ROM titles.

The disks, which can cost up to $100 each, are expensive for individual bureaus to purchase. So after the event, the RRA asked Census officials to donate one set to the National Press Club library for general use by reporters.

The disks detailing county business patterns should be available in the next couple of months. LaVerne Collins, director of public information at the Census Bureau, also agreed to send a staff person to the Press Club to train librarians on how to use them. More details will appear in a future RRA newsletter.

As for the briefing, Census officials showed reporters how to use 1995 county business patterns data, as well as county-by-county information on job and business growth.

Reporters were able to compare 1995 data with 1990 data to find out the counties that were growing the fastest in terms of jobs and business starts.

The data also can be used to detail how a county's economy is changing, such as whether it's losing factories and gaining fast-food restaurants.

Congressional awards deadline Dec. 2

The Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center is accepting submissions for its 1997 Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress.

Two $5,000 awards are given annually to print and electronic journalists who report on Congress. A portfolio of up to four articles or 30 minutes of videotape will be evaluated by two independent panels of judges.

According to the center's brochure, entries will be evaluated based on ětheir value in fostering knowledge of Congress, its members, its policies and its work.î

Nominations for reporting about Congress at the local, regional or national level will be considered.

Portfolios should include a letter of nomination from an editor or bureau chief, a brief biographical sketch, and up to four articles published between Dec. 1, 1996 and Dec. 1, 1997.

For more information, call Kevin Yale Vernon, special projects manager, at 309-347-7113.


Looking for a rival's story or something off the wires? There are a few places you can go on the Internet now to do that more easily.

The first site is This newsstand site has newspapers from all over the world -- both big and small. It is divided geographically, so that even if you don't know the name of a paper you can find it by searching the state or area code.

Another good compilation is at The site has links to the AP and UPI and can connect you to your favorite political and gossip columns.

-- Lolita Baldor,
New Haven Register

October 1997 Regional Reporter

September 1997 Regional Reporter

August 1997 Regional Reporter

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