Not since the invention of the letter bomb has the Postal Service been used with such intimidating effect. In the last two years direct-mail expert Richard Viguerie has raised more than $20 million for conservative candidates and causes and helped purge the Senate of four of its most powerful Democrats. Now, with congressional elections only 10 months away, the onetime oil company clerk and his right-wing clients—including the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and Jesse Helms’ Congressional Club—are mobilizing for another assault. Among those targeted for political extinction are Ted Kennedy, Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd and House Majority Leader Jim Wright. Most of the money raised for Viguerie’s clients will be used to discredit such candidates; there is no legal limit on this kind of independent spending, as there is on direct contributions to politicians.
A fundamentalist and a Catholic who inveighs as strenuously against premarital sex as against Communism, the Texas-born Viguerie, 48, put together his first fund-raising list in 1964. He copied by hand the names and addresses of the 12,500 people who had given $50 or more to Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Conservatives, he believes, had no choice but to turn to the mails. “We couldn’t get our candidates on the evening news or our issues talked about,” Viguerie says. “It was like the tree that fell in the forest. If no one heard it, it didn’t make any noise.” Through successive elections, he enlarged that first list into a computer-collated roster of 4.5 million potential contributors. Operating out of headquarters in Falls Church, Va., he plans to double his list by 1984 and pour the donations into a massive conservative media blitz. Though his life seems securely anchored in suburban affluence—he, his wife Elaine and their three children have lived for six years in comfortable McLean, Va.—Viguerie envisions himself in the forefront of a revolution being fought with 20-cent stamps. “I think the conservative movement is where it is today because of a handful of people,” he says. “Take away an Adams, a Jefferson or a Washington, and you wouldn’t have had that first revolution.”