Insiders Vie to Raise Cash for Bush

Posted October 14, 2003 at 6:27pm

They have begged. They have pleaded. They have bargained.

And through five months of President Bush’s re-election bid, the growing list of lawmakers, lobbyists and businessmen who double as mega-fundraisers for Bush have hauled in more than $38 million — four times more than they raised in the entire 2000 campaign.

The sharp increase is the result of a hard-hitting effort by the Bush campaign to offset the loss of soft money contributions by soliciting more money from an elite team of Republicans committed to raising $100,000, $200,000 or more apiece.

In the 1999-2000 campaign, 115 Republicans participated in Bush’s fundraising “Pioneer” program, helping to raise more than $11.5 million of the $100 million that then-Gov. Bush brought in for his campaign.

So far this year, 185 Pioneers have brought in at least $18.5 million for Bush and another 100 Republicans have earned the newly coined status of “Ranger” by hauling in a total of $20 million, according to figures released Tuesday by the campaign.

Together, the $38.5 million raised by the fundraising Pioneers and Rangers in the early months of the campaign represents nearly 25 percent of the $175 million that the Bush campaign plans to bring in.

Officials on the Bush campaign attribute the staggering increase to the president’s popularity.

But fundraisers say Bush’s finance team has helped to increase the campaign’s take by creating a healthy competition within the elite group.

In the past few years, campaign aides Jack Oliver and Mercer Reynolds have recruited hundreds of new Republicans to compete to be Rangers or Pioneers. Meanwhile, they have distributed status reports to track their progress.

“This time, there are a lot more people out there,” said Jack Abramoff, a fundraising Pioneer and Republican lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig.

In 2000, Abramoff was one of a half-dozen Washington lobbyists who raised $100,000 for the Bush campaign. This cycle, at least four partners at Abramoff’s firm hope to raise at least that amount.

In all, more than four dozen Washington lobbyists hope to become Rangers or Pioneers, including Lanny Griffith of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, Chip Kahn of the Federation of American Hospitals, Ron Kaufman of the Dutko Group, James Langdon of Akin Gump, and Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

But because each Bush supporter cannot contribute more than $4,000 to the campaign, many new fundraisers find themselves in competition with other lobbyists for Bush money.

“You can’t find a bum on the street who hasn’t already maxed out,” said one aspiring Pioneer. “They have created this very competitive situation. Most people have already been hit up to give.”

Added Republican fundraiser Ward White: “Let’s face it, there are a lot of people around town who are soliciting money.”

Veteran Republican fundraisers say that competition will help squeeze more money out of Bush’s finance team.

“The competition is the key to it,” said Pioneer Wayne Berman. “If there are only a few degrees of separation [between Bush fundraisers], than you know that you are not going to be the only one calling.”

As a result, Bush fundraisers and donors have adopted some creative ways to add to their totals.

Some Bush contributors split their checks among several different fundraisers so each can claim a little credit.

Fundraisers get credit for donations when contributors add a special “tracking code” to their checks.

Another Republican said that he bargains with Bush fundraisers when they call. In exchange for a $2,000 contribution to the Bush campaign, he asks the fundraisers to contribute $5,000 of their own money to a favorite Congressional candidate.

Other Pioneers and Rangers say the key to success is to tap into resources outside of the Beltway.

“There are so many people competing for dollars inside the Beltway that I don’t want to run into heavy competition,” said Abramoff, who hopes to raise at least $200,000 this go around.

In addition to the lobbyists, several lawmakers, including Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), became top Bush fundraisers during the third quarter by tapping home-grown donor networks.

“Just as volunteers at the grassroots level would be better-equipped to ask their friends to write a letter, call a radio talk show or donate to a campaign, Members of Congress have relationships with their contributors that they can use to build support for the campaign,” said Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney committee.

A Hastert aide said the Speaker, for instance, elected not to raise money in Chicago for Bush’s $3.7 million fundraiser there on Sept. 30, to avoid overlap with others trying to collect dollars for the event. He relied instead on the donor base he has cultivated over the years in his district.

“If you think about it, those [in the district] are people we can reach who probably can’t be hit by the campaign so well,” another Hastert adviser said.

Ultimately the Speaker raked in enough money for the $2,000-a-plate event to become a Ranger. Joining him was Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who relied on contributions from the wealthy donor community in his district, along Chicago’s North Shore, to cross the $200,000 threshold.

Also on the official list of Rangers are Reps. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) and Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), plus Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.). The new Pioneers are Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.).

Reynolds, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, suggested that efforts to raise money for the Bush-Cheney campaign have benefited from the new campaign finance laws, because prohibitions on soft money have led contributors to look for new channels for their gifts.

Someone who might have previously given the NRCC $100,000, for instance, will now have a good deal of money left over once he has bumped into the new limits.

“They’re looking at what they’re setting aside for investment in the Republican Party [and shifting it to] the president,” Reynolds said.