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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Ending a campaign free from burdensome obligations to donors

Holshouser managed to finish his gubernatorial campaign free from obligations to donors, he remembers, in part because he received money from people who believed in his message and who trusted him, and in part because of a talented fundraiser on his team. Holshouser also shares his thoughts on public campaign financing, a practice he opposes because he feels that a politician will win the donations he or she deserves.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK FLEER:
Let's explore one final thing about the campaign and then I want to give us a chance to take a break. You talked a little bit about the woman from South Carolina that she sent you $25.00 and the fact that you had large numbers of very good ads that never saw the light of the television. Talk a little bit about financing and what you learned from that experience about campaign financing. How you go about doing it and what you learned from it.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well when we had the first meeting with this group that the Attorney General put together several months before to talk about finance reform, I hold them that I really didn't belong on that committee because our experience had been so bad in raising money that the problems that they were trying to address just weren't problems that I had ever had to face.
JACK FLEER:
This is the "Better Campaign Commission" that you and the other governors worked on?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. The fact is you know it again is just the fortunes of war and the luck of the draw and the way things are. We finished that campaign not being obligated to anybody. I mean nobody. I mean we raised less than $200,000. By election day, we had spent less than $400,000. We had to raise more after the election than we did before the election. If I had lost I would have been ten years paying it off at least. But as it was it was paid off by inauguration day. But I also told our fundraisers; I said look we have gotten this far, we don't need to become obligated now. We got the job so don't take more than $1000 from anybody. As a result I had the luxury of probably that nobody has in this day and time. Now I think, I think things have changed but at the time I was running in the early years of the pacs and this sort of thing, I always knew that you were likely to get financial support from people who gave you that support because you were representing the ideas that they believed in. Our own experience in 1972 was that people gave us so little chance of winning until George Little took over the finances and fund raising oh about six weeks maybe two months before the election, I guess about six weeks. I think he raised more money that last six weeks than we had up to that time. Because out of that $200,000 less than we had raised I had put in $50,000 on my own that I went out to the bank and borrowed and took the second mortgage on the house. We had decided that we were in for a penny in for dime, that kind of thing. That if you are going to go, you are only going to go one time that you had better do the best that you can. I think it was only in the last two to three weeks before the election that people started to really think maybe I had a chance and then some money started to come in.
JACK FLEER:
So your interpretation from what you said earlier about your belief that people gave money to persons that represented their ideas and the fact that you didn't get much money would be not that there weren't people out there who supported you but that they just didn't think you could win. They wondered whether you could win.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That is right. And some people gave the money even when they weren't sure that you even had a chance just because they were loyal or whatever. And we had people give us money that said they couldn't publicly support us and some of them probably didn't even vote for us. I don't know. I think things have changed in terms of fund raising because I get the sense now that too many people are trying to buy access and that it shouldn't be necessary to have to buy access. It ought to be there. And with presidents, you have only got so many hours in the day and there are just not that many people you get a chance to see you. We said to the black leadership, to union leadership, not leadership really, people, that while there were issues that we wouldn't agree on that I would always be open to listen to what they had to say. That implied that they would have access to come in and talk and I didn't view that as any big deal. I just thought that was part of the job, listen to people with different points of view. I didn't realize at the time I was campaigning, I think the one surprise after inauguration day was how many people wanted to see you and how few people you could see in relative terms and how many people wanted you to make a hands on decision yourself as opposed to having a cabinet member or department head or whatever to do that.
JACK FLEER:
Related to your idea about campaigning and financing and the possibility that you might have lost because you didn't have adequate financing, there is a argument in the campaign finance debate that the current system does run that risk. That legitimate alternatives and legitimate views are not given the light of day because of the absence of funding.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes, I know and as much as I was a victim of that absence in a way, I still have a hard time bringing myself around to a public financing approach. I just sort of believe that campaign place is a little bit like the market place that if you got a good product that it ought to draw contributions. Now I grant that circumstances vary from place to place and in our case we were sort of in an unusual situation because we just hadn't elected anybody in 70 years, 72 years, 74 years. But today a Republican and Democrat candidate probably start off even in terms of fund raising. If they are good people to express themselves well and have some vision about where the state ought to go they ought to be able to draw money. At the presidential campaign level or the congressional campaign, senatorial campaign level, that is the same thing tends to apply. There are some states where you are going to have a clear leg up if you are a Democrat nominee or a Republican nominee as the case may be. But public financing in those cases probably wouldn't make that much difference. I think there is probably a more viable argument for public financing when it comes to congressional elections because of the advantage of incumbency. Doesn't have anything to do with party and that pacs in particular are afraid not to give to incumbents. They have a clear advantage of being in Washington, being able to have as many receptions as they want to and as much contact with lobbyists as they want. Challengers just don't have that. I think it is very, very hard to beat an incumbent. The statistics are pretty clear that 90% of them that run for the election get elected. And if you look back at 1994 even the Republican swing then had more to do with people not running again than it did with a huge swing.
JACK FLEER:
You mentioned that you did not or you told George Little not to take contributions greater thana $1000. I guess that was late in the campaign or after the campaign.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
After the election.
JACK FLEER:
You did not have that kind of limit prior to the election.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
No and I am sure that we got some contributions of more than that. For instance Marvin Johnson down in Duplin County with the chicken poultry thing down there was one of our bigger contributors. It made it hard for me to send George of all people down to see him sometime in the first year or two to tell him if he didn't get his stuff cleaned up and quit dumping stuff in streams we were going to have to shut him down. At the same time part of it was that we decided early on I had seen the state chairman, I had seen some candidate get so involved in the mechanics of the campaign that they didn't do their job as a candidate. We decided early on that we were going to have to have some strategy meetings here and there, that I was going to be the candidate and Gene Anderson was going to sit in Raleigh and do the schedule for the staff and the schedule for me. And I went on the road six days a week and when and where they said to go and I would know if they were screwing up but we both knew what we needed to do. So I was just a candidate. I wasn't worried about fund raising except I knew we weren't getting any money in.