June/July 1999

The '00 White House race is now here

By Maureen Groppe
Thomson Newspapers

If you're used to reading FEC reports for congressional candidates and suddenly have to start deciphering presidential filings, you'll notice some differences.

The first is they're due on different days. The next presidential reports must be postmarked by July 15, while House and Senate candidates have to turn in their mid-year reports by July 31.

The Political Action Committee money that can weigh down a congressional filing usually plays a much smaller role in presidential campaigns. PAC money does not qualify for matching funds, and PACs are notorious for staying on the sidelines until there's a clear winner. So if a candidate you're covering wants credit for abstaining from PACs, question how much he's really given up (and see George Stephanopoulos' book for an example of how those decisions are made).

By asking for public funding - and all but George Bush and Steve Forbes are expected to - candidates must also agree to spending limits. That adds another quirk to the FEC reports.

The fourth page is a state-by-state chart showing how much money a candidate has spent towards each state's limit. Because the amount is based on the state's voting age population, candidates usually want to spend more than allowed on the small states with big voices - namely Iowa and New Hampshire. This leads to creative accounting such as renting cars in Boston that will be used in Manchester, N.H.

"I wouldn't put too much credence on these state-by-state limits," said FEC spokesman Ian Stirton. Because of the difficulty in auditing the expenditures, the FEC has asked Congress to eliminate that part of the report, but without success.

Still, AP reporter Jonathan Salant said there are good stories to be written from the numbers. When he wrote for New York papers, Salant told readers how much more money the candidates were spending on little states than on New York, despite its many electoral votes.

Although the overall spending limit isn't set yet, it's expected to be about $33.5 million with another 20 percent added for fund-raising costs. Candidates can also raise money for legal and accounting expenses that do not count toward their total. Those are included on the FEC report but general election candidates can open separate "compliance" accounts. Most candidates wait until their nomination is assured before raising compliance money, which has to be returned if they don't compete in the general election. Gore has already opened an account.

Some candidates also operate PACs in states with loose restrictions, opening up another money spigot. In Virginia, which puts no limits on the amount that can be legally donated through PACs, leadership PACs have been established by Lamar Alexander, Dan Quayle, and Gary Bauer.

The Center for Responsive Politics' Web site ( posts the PACs it's found. Keeping tabs on new ones is difficult, said center spokesman Paul Hendrie. You can periodically check the states with loose laws, but that can be time consuming. Hendrie asked Virginia officials in January for a list of every PAC in the state and received the information in April.

For candidates with more than one fund-raising operation, cross check the lists of donors. If the same contributors appear, write about how they're manipulating the system to give more than the limit to one campaign.

Other stories from presidential filings are the golden oldies:

Where's the money coming from? What percentage of contributors have disclosed their addresses and occupations? If you don't have a home-state candidate, who's vacuuming up the most cash from your readers? If you do have a candidate, are others stepping on his fund-raising turf? And how are the candidates spending their money?

Two candidates, two approaches

When Ohio Rep. John Kasich formed a presidential exploratory committee, editors at the Columbus Dispatch decided they would go all out in their coverage.

"How many times does a guy from Columbus ever be considered a serious, second-tier presidential candidate?" asked Jonathan Riskind, one of the Dispatch's two Washington reporters.

The paper wanted to keep readers informed of how Kasich is doing and establish itself as the definitive source on the nine-term, high-energy congressman.

By contrast, the one-person bureau of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has not extensively covered the presidential bid of its hometown boy, former Vice President Dan Quayle.

"I can't afford the time. I can't afford the money," said bureau chief Sylvia Smith.

Instead, Smith has covered Quayle like she covered Sen. Richard Lugar's 1996 bid. She pores through the FEC reports, writes about campaign commercials, covers speeches they give in the Washington area and lets her readers know when prominent Republicans have hitched onto a different candidate.

When Quayle visits his hometown of Huntington, the story is covered big by local reporters. But by leaving the other coverage up to the wires, Smith said she is able to still give readers what they would otherwise miss: day-to-day coverage of Congress, delegation news, and spelling bee coverage, for example. Her 62,000-daily circulation paper doesn't have the money to keep sending her out on the campaign trail and "you can't cover a presidential candidate by going on one trip or even two trips," she said.

The Dispatch's two Washington reporters have hit the road eight times with Kasich. In addition to sending back daily dispatches on Kasich's efforts in Iowa and New Hampshire, the reporters gather string for the enterprise pieces they're working on. The two teamed up with Politics Editor Joe Hallett for their major bio piece and Riskind and Bureau Chief Roger Lowe wrote a lengthy piece explaining Kasich's campaign message and how he's selling it.

A search of the Dispatch Web site ( turned up 35 Kasich presidential stories, most of which were written by the Washington reporters.

If lightening does strike, Bush falters, and Kasich emerges from the pack, "we will have been there," Riskind said. "We'll have told the story from the first day."

Maddox elected 12th RRA president

Jennifer Maddox of Scripps Howard News Service was elected president of the Regional Reporters Association at its annual membership meeting June 14.

Maddox covers Washington for three mid-sized newspapers in Florida: The Naples Daily News, the Vero Beach Press-Journal and the Stuart News. She also covers national aging issues for Scripps Howard's wire service.

Lolita Baldor of the New Haven Register was elected as vice president of the association. Marc Heller of the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times is the new secretary, and Maureen Groppe of Thomson Newspapers keeps her seat as treasurer.

On a voice vote, outgoing vice president Carl Weiser of Gannett News Service was elected Northeast regional director, taking Baldor's place as she rises to Weiser's spot. Weiser declined to run for president this year because he and his wife recently had a baby.

Onell Soto of the Riverside (Calif.) Press Enterprise, who served as an at-large director last year, was elected to serve as Western regional director. The spots for Southeast and Midwest directors are still open and will be decided at the association's next board meeting in July.

Joining the RRA board as at-large directors are Donna Leinwand of Gannett News Service and a bloc of Scripps Howard regional reporters: Rachel Smolkin, a correspondent for the Birmingham Post-Herald; Jessica Wehrman, a correspondent for the Albuquerque Tribune and several Texas newspapers; and Jeff Miller, the correspondent for the Ventura (Calif.) County Star and the Evansville (Ind.) Courier.

Returning to the board are outgoing president Christine Dorsey of Donrey Media and outgoing secretary Brett Lieberman of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa. Also returning are Susan Roth of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Deborah Kalb of Gannett News Service, James Grimaldi of the Seattle Times, Anick Jesdanun of The Associated Press and James Rosen of the Raleigh News and Observer.

All terms are for one year.

"If I can only do as well as Christine did last year, I'll consider myself a success," Maddox said. "I'll be reaching out to her and the other board members to make sure the RRA stays strong."

The association has about 150 members, but Maddox said she wants to increase those numbers throughout the year. That means letting prospective new members know how the association can be valuable to them for their $20 membership fee.

In her departing speech, Dorsey recommended that the association develop a pamphlet describing what the association does, for both prospective new members and for those thinking about doing a "newsmaker" event with the organization.

Recent newsmakers have included get-togethers with Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo West and a program co-sponsored with the National Press Club called "Putting FOIA to Work for You."

Upcoming events this year, which are still in the planning stages, include a newsmaker with the National Sea Grant College Program and several government officials, who will be talking about emerging regulations governing the eight regional fisheries councils around the country.

"I'm excited about the new things we are planning for this year, and I want to solicit even more ideas from the board and our general membership," Maddox said.

Besides its monthly newsletter, the RRA informs the membership with its Web site,, and a regular e-mail alert system with information on events and press conferences that are geared toward regional reporters.

Maddox had a relatively quick rise to the presidency, after only one year on the board as an at-large director. She has been in Washington for two and a half years. Before that, she worked at the Stuart News, which is about 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, for three and a half years. A native of the Washington area, she was originally an intern for Scripps Howard at its Washington bureau in 1993.

Baldor, a board veteran, will be instrumental to newcomer Maddox in her role as vice president. A native of New Hampshire, Baldor has been in Washington for several years as a D.C. correspondent for Connecticut newspapers. She joined the New Haven Register in 1997 as Washington correspondent.

Heller, like Maddox, takes an officer position after only one year on the RRA board. He's been in Washington for about 18 months, after being the Watertown Daily Times' agriculture writer for several years. He's continued to write heavily about agriculture issues in Washington, covering the USDA extensively.

Groppe has been in Washington since 1992 with Thomson Newspapers. Her beat includes the Tribune Newspapers in suburban Phoenix, the Sun City Daily Sun and the Yuma Daily Sun. She has worked for Congressional Quarterly and has written for Thomson in the Midwest. The Indiana native worked in the Hoosier state for four years before coming to D.C.

Award to be set up in memory of Lynch

In late December, Washington reporting lost a bright light and a treasured friend with the death of David Lynch. His friends ask for your help in creating a lasting memorial to the high journalistic standards and professionalism that Lynch embodied.

Lynch, whose Lynch News Service most recently provided Washington coverage for The Cedar Rapids (Iowa)Gazette, was a fixture in the Senate Press Gallery for more than a quarter century. His knowledge of Capitol Hill and the agriculture beat was second to none.

Bob Petersen and Wendy Oscarson in the Senate Press Gallery are helping to collect contributions for the David Lynch Memorial Regional Reporting Award, which will go to the journalist or journalists who produce work that best embodies both his reporting standards and commitment to the hometown audience.

    Contributions may be sent to the David Lynch Memorial Fund in care of the Senate Press Gallery, S-316, U.S. Capitol, 20510.

Tips on managing it on your own

By Lita Baldor
New Haven Register


By Pete Leffler
Allentown Morning Call

Managing a one-person bureau in Washington can be both frustrating and fulfilling. But success depends greatly on good communications with the editors back home.

To work alone successfully, you have to be independent and responsible - a self-starter who knows when to follow the pack and localize the story of the day and when to break away and do projects.

On your best day, you're doing what you want and your boss is hundreds of miles away. On the worst day, news is breaking on three or more fronts.

On most days, you're your own assignment editor. Decide early what is important enough to tackle and what is best left to the wire. Be realistic. Draw up a flexible budget of which stories you're going to pursue, both short and long term. It helps organize life and head off errant ideas that may come your way from the home office. Remember, it's always best to combat a bad idea with a better one.

The biggest benefit of the job is its variety. But that can make you a jack of all trades and a master of none. Like any good regional, pick one or more key issue areas and make it your own. The hard work spent getting up to speed will pay off in great stories (and time saved on follow-up dailies) later.

But be careful not to be blinded by the routine. To stay sane, it's important to break away from the grind now and then and search out that Smithsonian Institution story, or that feature on the woman from your state who serves on Mount Vernon's governing board.

To make those days of congressional reacts more palatable, spend time fishing for local letters/comments in an EPA public comment docket or checking out lobbying reports filed by some of your local companies.

Most importantly, don't be afraid to "borrow" ideas from anywhere you can - papers, people, think tanks, television. Remember - your beat is the world, and any link you can make to your local readers.

Some survival tips:

  • Stay in contact with other reporters, particularly those in larger bureaus who have access to more resources and news. The Morning Call sublet space from States News Service years ago to give its correspondent here exposure to a newsroom atmosphere. And don't forget - here's where the RRA plug comes in - other RRA members are great resources.

  • It goes without saying that the Daily Monitor and the Daybook are our best friends. For those with no financial resources, both the House and Senate galleries have free copies for those early birds who get there before they run out.

    The same goes for copies of Roll Call and The Hill. The Library of Congress Web site ( can be searched for members' comments and bill introductions. Don't be afraid to call the House and Senate press galleries, at (202) 225-3945 and (202) 224-0241, for votes during those many times you can't be two places at once.

  • Organize! Set up a routine and stick to it. Make your Monday calls to members' offices for schedules and press conferences; have a list of Web sites in a "Daily" folder so you will remember to check them each morning, and get out of the office! Spending time in the galleries, on the Hill and at the Press Club gives access to fresh ideas and someone to talk to other than the person on the other end of the phone.

Leffler celebrates his 10th year as a one-man regional in August. Baldor runs a one-person bureau for the Register.

President's Report

A new president, same mission

By Jennifer Maddox

When my predecessor, Christine Dorsey, took over as RRA president last year, she wrote in her inaugural column that the privilege she most looked forward to was banging the gavel, to get press secretaries and cabinet members alike in line to provide the membership with good regional stories.

As a board member of the RRA, I never once saw Christine with a gavel in her hand. She didn't need one. All she had to do was catch someone's eye and that was it. They blinked first.

That's one reason we've had such a nice assortment of stories in the RRA newsletter over the past year. When Christine wanted you to do a story, she made it hard to say no. Her powers of persuasion - and persistence - also take credit for a terrific turnout at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Regional Reporters Association in December, with a full morning's lineup of reporters, experts and a congressman to reflect on the state of regional reporting today.

Now that the Year of Dorsey is over, I can only hope to continue what she and her predecessors have already firmly established: a strong network of nearly 200 regional reporters who can take and provide advice on stories in Washington that have angles back home.

This past year's vice president, Carl Weiser of Gannett News Service, declined to ascend into the president's spot due to a tiny new addition to his family named Sam. But he will still serve on our board.

A number of capable regional reporters will also provide continuity on the board. Lolita Baldor of the New Haven (Conn.) Register, who most recently served as the board's Northeast director, will now be at my right hand as vice president. Marc Heller of the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times, will assume the secretary's role after a year as an at-large director on the board. And Maureen Groppe of Thomson Newspapers will continue on her post as treasurer.

My hope is that I will be able to help our members discover compelling ideas for their respective regions. I want to make your $20 worth every penny. I encourage any and all to call and brag about your great stories, so that I can forward the ideas to everyone else. Also, don't hesitate to call with complaints or suggestions on how we can help serve you better.

So, as all the politicians say, "Thanks for your support!"


Got news? call Pat Howe at (202)662-7690 or send it to

Board meeting minutes -- June 7, 1999

In her last meeting as president, Christine Dorsey suggested changing RRA's bylaws to clarify when notice must be given for the annual meeting.

In recent years notice has been sent out about 30 days before the meeting, though the current bylaws has no requirement. RRA's attorney said the group has been in compliance with DC laws, which require a minimum of 10 days. Board members were generally in favor of making the change. Because RRA's 1999 annual meeting and election was only seven days away, Dorsey suggested waiting until next year.

Dorsey informed the board that Jim Specht, who had agreed to spearhead the effort to produce a new edition of the RRA Guide to Washington, has left regional reporting. Secretary Brett Lieberman agreed to take over the task.

Lieberman suggested RRA start an online discussion group to give members a way to provide feedback to RRA and also to create a dialogue among members. The group, which would be free to RRA, would allow members to pass along tips or comments. Interest in starting the service was mixed on the board. No decision was made.

Lieberman also updated the board on a proposal at the Regional Reporters Educational Foundation, a separate, tax-exempt sister organization established about eight years ago by RRA members, to change its bylaws. Currently, its board is made up of the top four RRA officers, two contributor-directors and three reporter-directors. He proposed changing the bylaws to name only the RRA president and vice president and change the other two slots to reporter-directors. Lieberman said the goal is to get more people involved, diversify the board and recruit board members willing to do work.

Dorsey and Jerry Zremski said they were concerned that RREF was separating itself from RRA too much. After a lengthy and heated debate, the board voted 8-0 to approve a resolution that if RREF were to make the change, the two new reporter-directors should be RRA members. Lieberman, RREF's president, abstained.

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Has your e-mail address changed? Please remember to let RRA know if you move, or if your e-mail address changes. We try to keep our database current, but we need your help. Let us know if you're not receiving e-mail bulletins from RRA president Christine Dorsey. Or, if you prefer not to receive e-mail, let us know that, too. E-mail is becoming RRA's fastest and easiest means of communication with the membership. Be sure to update us on any snail mail or fax number changes as well.