Putting him on pace to shatter the fund-raising record he set in 2000, President George W. Bush has lined up commitments for more than $5 million for his re-election campaign at a June 23 event in Manhattan.
The huge sum demonstrates just how potent the Bush money machine will be as Campaign ’04 unfolds. The millions expected from the New York event will exceed in one night what most of Mr. Bush’s Democratic challengers generate over the course of weeks-and even months-of tedious phone solicitations and meet-and-greets. If Mr. Bush’s success at this event is any indication, the campaign will destroy the record $100 million the Bush-Cheney team raised and spent in 2000, allowing the President to build an insurmountable monetary advantage over his eventual Democratic opponent.
“This thing is blown wide open,” said James Ortenzio, chairman of the Republican county committee in Manhattan and a member of the host committee. “The response for this event, and the other Bush events, defies the political laws of physics. It’s creating a perfect vacuum for the month of June, to the extent that I can’t see any other events [for other candidates] getting any attention at all.”
The Observer calculated the sum-around $5.8 million-from an invitation to the event, which lists supporters according to the amount they are committed to raise. Even if some of the commitments are not completely fulfilled, the sheer size of the donor list indicates the likelihood of a record-breaking haul.
The money is being generated by a roll call of top leaders in the finance, insurance, law and construction industries, all of whom will have used their powerful networks of friends and colleagues to “bundle” small donations into much larger total contributions. Some of them, like Jets owner Robert (Woody) Johnson and insurance magnate Maurice (Hank) Greenberg, were key participants in Mr. Bush’s fund-raising efforts in 2000. Others, like Lehman Brothers chief executive and major Democratic donor Richard Fuld, are first-time backers who now want to play a role in the re-election effort.
The event, an evening reception at the New York Sheraton, will take place 14 months before Mr. Bush’s formal coronation at the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden, and it will be part of a larger fund-raising sweep across America. (Over a two-week period, the President will also attend events in Washington, D.C., Greensboro, Ga., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Tampa.)
In addition to the enormous benefits of being an incumbent President, several other factors are creating an almost ideal environment for the Bush campaign’s fund-raising. There is, of course, the President’s standing as a leader in the fight against terrorism, which the campaign is using as a draw in its direct-mail solicitations, and which will doubtless remain a central theme through the convention in New York next year. Their efforts are also helped by new campaign-finance rules. The current round of fund-raising will be the first to take advantage of the new guidelines, which double the limit for hard-money donations from $1,000 to $2,000-allowing many Bush donors and bundlers to raise and contribute twice the amounts they have in the past. This magnifies the advantage the Republicans have over the Democrats, who have relied heavily in the past on now-illegal soft-money contributions.
In addition, the Bush campaign will be able to draw from a pool of donors that includes many Wall Street executives who were forbidden by securities regulations from contributing to the 2000 campaign, when Mr. Bush was still the governor of Texas. (The rule forbids people in the financial industry from contributing to anyone with influence over bond issues.) These newly eligible donors alone will account for nearly $1 million in bundled contributions at the New York fund-raiser.
“The combination of Bush’s popularity right now and the rules changes is really going to spell much bigger numbers than we’ve seen before,” said consultant Joseph Mercurio.
For the New York reception, which was organized by two of Governor George Pataki’s fund-raisers, Cathy Blaney and Patrick Donohue, donors have been provided with numerous incentives for coming up with large amounts of money. First, there will be the kinds of honorific titles that the Bush campaign bestowed upon its best-performing fund-raisers in 2000. Those listed on the invitation as “General Chairs”-a new category for bundlers bringing in commitments of $200,000-will be classified as “Rangers,” a class of donors who will receive special attention at party gatherings. “Co-Chairs”-those bringing in $100,000-are “Pioneers,” the appellation that was used for Bush supporters who raised the same amount during the 2000 Republican primaries. Also listed are “Vice-Chairs” and “Members” of the host committee, applicable to those who raise $50,000 and $20,000, respectively.
Bundlers who raise at least $20,000 will be invited to a closed reception and photo session with the President. People who raise more than $50,000 will be invited to lunch at the “21” Club with Karl Rove on June 10. All donors will be treated to a private dinner after the main event.
Some of the top fund-raisers for the event are Pataki allies like former Senator Alfonse D’Amato and financiers Henry Kravis and Thomas McInerney; former Bush Pioneers like builder Alex Spanos, lobbyist Wayne Berman and blue-chip brokerage giant Patrick Durkin; and Bush family members Jonathan Bush and George H. Walker.
The official hosts for the event will be Mr. Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and state G.O.P. chair Sandy Treadwell.
Mr. Bush’s supporters tout his financial support as a barometer of his overall political strength. “I think the money being raised here is a very significant indication of how people feel about the President, especially because it’s happening in a state that he discarded in 2000 because he didn’t think he could win it,” said Fernando Mateo, a prominent Pataki supporter who is a vice-chair of the host committee. “People don’t give money if they believe a candidate is going to lose. I think the millions of dollars he’s going to raise are an indication that he can win, even in New York.”
The Democratic view is that the Bush campaign’s unassailable advantage in fund-raising is an indication of something else entirely. “George W. Bush’s fund-raising is going to haunt him in this Presidential campaign, because the only Americans he’s helped as President are his contributors,” said David Wade, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry’s Presidential campaign. “The Rangers and Pioneers he’s rewarded with special-interest tax policies love George Bush, but it’s the 2.7 million Americans who lost their jobs on his watch who aren’t so happy.” Mr. Kerry, one of the stronger fund-raisers in the Democratic field, recently e-mailed an appeal to supporters for donations to help him overcome “the Bush money machine” and “special-interest juggernaut.”
In the end, though, Democrats can only hope that money isn’t everything.
“It’s no surprise to anyone that the money Bush raises is going to be off the charts,” said Democratic consultant Howard Wolfson. “Does having these resources help him? Absolutely. Is it going to re-elect him President? That remains to be seen.”