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Federal File: Soft money ; Nominees; Rethinking

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The National Education Association was one of the biggest contributors to the Democratic Party in the 1992 election cycle.

The teachers' union gave $279,202 to the party between Jan. 1, 1991, and Aug. 31, 1992, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The center, a nonpartisan organization concerned with campaign-finance reform, used Federal Election Commission data to track the largest contributors to both political parties.

The N.E.A.'s contribution was bested only by the United Steelworkers of America--the top Democratic contributor, with $392,500--the RJR Nabisco Corporation, and the philanthropist Alida Rockefeller Messinger.

RJR Nabisco gave even more to the G.O.P., which collected twice as much as the Democrats over all. The N.E.A.'s donation would barely have qualified it for the Republicans' top-10 list, headed by the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, which contributed $1 million.

Political-action committees can give only $10,000 to each federal candidate, and individuals are limited to $1,000. Presidential candidates cannot take donations for the general election if they want public financing. Donations to the parties, however, are unlimited.

A group sponsored by the National Women's Political Caucus has released a list of 75 women qualified for high-level posts in the Clinton Administration, including seven women in the education field.

Donna Shalala, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, is one of the candidates most often mentioned for Secretary of Education. Johnetta Cole, the president of Spelman College, has also been on many such lists.

Also named by the Coalition for Women's Appointments were Betty Castor, Florida's education commissioner; Mary Hatwood Futrell, the former president of the National Education Association; Nannerl Keohane, the president of Wellesley College; and Floretta D. McKenzie, a consultant and former District of Columbia superintendent.

As Republicans battle over the direction of their party, most observers expect former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett to be a key player.

Several recent news reports have indicated that he might form a "Republican Leadership Council'' with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Rep. Vin Weber, R-Minn., who is retiring from Congress.

"The clear mandate for an R.L.C. is to remind people who we were as a party--the neo-Reaganites,'' Mr. Bennett told The Washington Times.--J.M.

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