Zagat’s Guide To Raising $13,587 a Day

Posted February 7, 2003 at 6:18pm

Doesn’t Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) know there’s a recession? And that it’s supposed to be harder to raise campaign cash in the post-McCain-Feingold world?

Maybe he does, but that hasn’t prevented him from keeping his eyes on his own prize — re-election to a second term in 2004.

Despite the lull of summer, the depressed economy, the hard-fought midterm elections, five weeks of year-end holidays and America’s preoccupation with war, Schumer was able to raise $13,587 a day during the last six months of 2002. His latest Federal Election Commission report shows that he collected $2.5 million during that period, swelling his war chest to $13.6 million — far greater than any of his Senate colleagues or potential challengers.

It is also just $3 million less than he needed for his 1998 victory over then-Sen. Al D’Amato (R), who spent $24.2 million in a losing bid for a fourth term.

How does Schumer do it? And who are all these people giving him money anyway?

“Because it costs so much to run in that media market, candidates in the New York metro area learn early on that they have to raise so much money every single month,” said Kent Cooper, a former FEC commissioner who runs PoliticalMoneyLine.com, a Web site devoted to analyzing campaign cash. “It tends to require a person that’s comfortable doing that. They don’t mind the effort and the wear and tear of fundraising. These guys — it’s become part of their daily life, and they enjoy it.”

If there is anything extraordinary about Schumer’s latest 1,066-page campaign finance document, other than the eye-popping volume and bottom line, it is its sheer ordinariness. It isn’t laden with superstar donations, as so many big-time Democrats’ reports are these days.

There is no Barbra Streisand, though she, like Schumer, hails from Brooklyn. There is no Rob Reiner. No David Geffen.

Schumer does have a few celebrity contributors. Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta gave him $1,000. So did film producer Jean Doumanian.

Carl Gottlieb, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter (“Jaws”) and comedy writer (for the Smothers Brothers and Flip Wilson, among others), ponied up $2,000. Nina Zagat and Eugene Zagat Jr., publishers of the popular big-city restaurant guides, each gave $2,000.

The latest campaign finance report also features a few oddities. Alfred E. Smith IV, a stockbroker who is the great-grandson of the former New York governor and presidential candidate of the same name, gave Schumer $2,000.

Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of New York who was jailed in 1994 for stalking his Park Avenue socialite ex-mistress, gave $1,000. Jacoby & Meyers, the Long Island law firm famous in New York for advertising its services on television, chipped in $2,000.

Most of Schumer’s donors, however, were anonymous, if well-heeled, individuals, from Farajoliah Aalaei to Jon Zukerkorn. Though most of the contributions this period were in big denominations, Schumer raised $18,184 from individuals who gave in increments too small to be recorded on the FEC forms. Political action committees accounted for $94,000 of his take.

Representing New York on the Banking and Judiciary panels has obviously been a boon to Schumer. Many of his donors are the captains of industry, the high rollers of Wall Street and legal movers and shakers, along with developers, health care company executives and restaurateurs — each representing a piece of the 21st century New York aristocracy.

Kenneth Chenault, the CEO of American Express, gave him $2,000. Joseph Cullman III, chairman of Philip Morris, did likewise. So did John Hess, president of the Amerada Hess Corp. energy company.

“In general, Senators from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have always done well in fundraising from the commercial and financial businesses in New York City,” Cooper said.

And how did Schumer parcel out the $313,000 he spent during the most recent six-month period? The biggest single expenditure was a $42,000 check to Peter Hart Research, the Democratic polling firm.

While there were any number of payments to campaign staffers, landlords, cellphone companies and Internet providers, the biggest overall expense may well have been fundraising itself.

Fundraising costs money, and there were several checks cut to fundraising venues and caterers, including the swank Carlyle and Regency hotels on Manhattan’s East Side, the Harvard Club, the Sky Club high atop Park Avenue — and the more pedestrian 2nd Avenue Deli in the East Village.

If Schumer is able to scare off meaningful opposition in 2004 — and it’s appearing increasingly likely that he will — it will all have been worth it.