Call it a coming-out party for young Republicans.
On the final evening of the Republican National Convention, just minutes after George W. Bush gives his speech accepting his party’s nomination, the doors of the chic Gotham Hall on West 36th Street will be thrown open for a glitzy celebration of some of the Grand Old Party’s youngest members. Hosted by Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter Emma, Governor Pataki’s daughter Emily and Christie Todd Whitman’s son Taylor, the gala is being touted as the convention event for the under-40 crowd, the culmination of a four-day long induction into Republican society. The First Twins, Jenna and Barbara Bush, are set to make an appearance, and cyclist Lance Armstrong and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who passed 40 well over a decade ago) have both been extended special invitations. In a nod to a higher purpose, the event is being held in honor of a charity called the National Mentoring Partnership.
The invitation, which was sent to a select group of 1,000 young Republicans, describes the event as a “celebration” of “The Next Generation of Leaders.” But a more accurate description might be an initiation ceremony for the next generation of movers, shakers and fund-raisers, because many of the gala’s guests have been chosen above all for their combination of fund-raising prowess and social and political connections. Some of the invitees are “Mavericks,” which is the name given by the Bush camp to the young rainmakers who’ve managed to raise at least $50,000 for the President’s campaign coffers. They are real-estate scions like Harrison LeFrak, liquor-company heirs like Nicole Ruvo and media professionals like Jeff Ballabon. Mr. LeFrak and Ms. Ruvo have raised at least $50,000, Mr. Ballabon at least $100,000.
They are the G.O.P.’s very own cadre of baby bundlers-young professionals who raise or “bundle” large checks for the party-and like their Democratic counterparts, they are being handsomely rewarded for helping stock their candidate’s $240 million war chest.
“I’ll be up at the convention all week,” said Christopher Keber, a 33-year-old Maverick. “I have credentials to a host of parties and to the convention itself, but the thing I’m most excited about is the Next Generation of Leaders [party].”
Political conventions, of course, have long been reward festivals for top party rainmakers. But rarely have so many young people been part of the rewards system as they are this year, at both the Republican and Democratic conventions. Thanks to new campaign-finance laws which have tried to “democratize” the fund-raising process by shifting the emphasis away from deep-pocketed donors to well-connected bundlers, the under-40 crowd burst onto the fund-raising landscape this summer. Suddenly, young people with packed Palm Pilot address books and active social lives are considered a coveted resource. For the first time, they can compete almost as effectively in the money game as G.O.P. grandees like buyout king Henry Kravis and Goldman Sachs chief executive Henry Paulson.
The Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign Web site lists 89 Mavericks, with 10 of them coming from New York City. Of these 10, four have gone on to earn secondary titles as Pioneers and Rangers, which is the Bush campaign’s designation for fund-raisers who rake in $100,000 and $200,000, respectively. The ranks of Pioneers include the President’s second cousin, George H. Walker IV, lawyer Timothy Spangler and Mr. Ballabon. Sander Gerber-a money manager and a Democrat who netted big bucks for Al Gore’s 2000 campaign-is the lone Ranger, so to speak, among the 10 New York Mavericks.
The young bundlers see their rise as a sign of democratization, proof that the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law helped level the fund-raising playing field by opening it up to the young and not-as-powerful. “I find fund-raising in this new McCain-Feingold era quite invigorating, because it’s not about just being someone who’s won an Academy Award or is the C.E.O. of a company that I.P.O.’d in 1999,” said Mr. Spangler, a 35-year-old attorney. “It’s about finding a very large number of individuals who are willing to commit themselves to a few hundred dollars. It really does tie fund-raising to winning individual hearts and minds, which is what democracy is about.”
But this new campaign-finance democracy is a relative kind of democracy. Though the young Mavericks may have brown hair instead of gray, and though they may have raised their contributions rather than simply signing large personal checks, they hardly represent a break from good-old-boy tradition. Instead, they’re simply younger versions of that tradition-people like Mr. LeFrak, who is heir to the LeFrak real-estate empire and is a regular on New York’s junior society circuit. Or they’re people like Ms. Ruvo, whose father is the Las Vegas liquor baron and Bush campaign Super Ranger, Larry Ruvo. (“Super Ranger” is the title given to those masters of the fund-raising universe who have raised over $300,000 for the Bush campaign). Elizabeth Factor, a 35-year-old Maverick with a gentle Southern drawl, is the wife of Bush Ranger and merchant banker Mallory Factor. Working with her husband, she has become a fund-raising force in New York’s upper-crust G.O.P. circles.
“A lot of our social time revolves around politics in one way or another,” said Ms. Factor as she sipped a glass of iced tea at the Upper East Side’s Café Nosidam on a recent afternoon. Dressed in a simple blue-gray pantsuit, her wheat-colored hair hanging neatly past her shoulders, she wore no makeup and was unvarnished save for a knuckle-sized diamond engagement ring on her left hand. “I have found-particularly in the last few years, since I’ve been involved at a much higher level-that we’re really able to bring success to candidates who will promote our values.”
But perhaps no baby bundler represents the connection between old tradition and new, politics and high society, better than George H. Walker IV. As the President’s second cousin, Mr. Walker, 35, is the Bush campaign’s equivalent of Chris Heinz, John Kerry’s stepson. By day, Mr. Walker leads Goldman Sachs’ Alternative Investment Strategies-in 1998, at the age of 29, he became the youngest partner in the bank’s history-while in his spare time he sits on the boards of the New School University (whose president, Bob Kerrey, is a former Democratic Senator and was a member of the 9/11 commission) and the Parsons School of Design. In 1992, Mr. Walker was named to the Commission on Presidential Scholars by President George H.W. Bush. Mr. Walker’s father, George H. Walker III, was appointed ambassador to Hungary by George W. Bush in 2003.
Of course, not all of the R.N.C.’s young rainmakers were bred to be bundlers; a few grew up without two homes, a prep-school education and a Palm Pilot full of family connections. But even they have wrangled their way into-or at least close to-the party’s elite, thanks to fast-track careers that have earned them money, influence or sometimes both. Mr. Gerber, for instance, is a board member of American Israel Political Action Committee who runs his own money-management firm, Gerber Asset Management, while Mr. Ballabon holds a plum post at the media giant Primemedia. Harry Wilson, a Maverick with a Harvard degree, is an investor at Silver Point Capital, a Greenwich, Conn.–based hedge fund with $2.1 billion in assets.
In this way, the G.O.P. baby bundlers are not so different from their Democratic counterparts. Like Chris Heinz and his cadre of young venture capitalists and political legacies-marketing executive Devon Archer or Brian Frank, Congresswoman Jane Harman’s son, for example-these Republicans generally fit a narrow profile. They tend to be well-connected Ivy Leaguers with high-paying jobs in finance or, occasionally, real estate. The young bundlers from both parties even dress alike, with the women favoring pearls and cashmere and the men preferring sober ties and Brooks Brothers suits. Indeed, the only difference between the two groups of bundlers seems to be that while the Democrats like to talk social policy, the Republicans like to chat up tax cuts. Just like their parents and grandparents.
“I care about fiscal issues,” said Ms. Factor, who, in her spare time, helps her husband run a monthly gathering of high-powered anti-tax conservatives called the Monday Meeting. “I care about tax policy, I care about government regulation, I care about having an environment in which people are likely to be able to achieve their economic dreams.”
“Fiscal issues” is the cri de coeur of the baby G.O.P. bundlers, the cause that sets their hearts racing. Raised during the Reagan era, they are passionate about small government, big tax cuts and trickle-down theory, though a hawkish foreign policy is also important. They tend to diverge on social issues-some of the bundlers are pro-life, some pro-choice, some shudder at the thought of gay marriage, others simply shrug at it-but in the end they tend to overlook these differences in favor of an embattled sense of solidarity.
“The Republicans in New York are a minority culture,” said Ms. Factor, who grew up in Alabama and Florida.
“I would say Republicans in New York are actually akin to gay Hollywood in the 1930’s: When you see somebody else that you work with that’s a Republican, you kind of give them a little sign,” added Auren Hoffman, 30, who founded a popular public-policy forum for conservative young professionals in New York and San Francisco called Lead 21. “You’re essentially a pariah here.”
But don’t feel too sorry for these young bundlers. While they may be “pariahs” among their co-workers and college buddies, they are rock stars within their party.
The Bush administration, following political tradition, has always been good to its faithful, rewarding them with lavish convention parties, lucrative business contracts and occasionally a government appointment. A recent report by Texans for Public Justice, a liberal nonprofit group, revealed that 22 percent of the top fund-raisers (or their spouses) from Mr. Bush’s two Presidential campaigns have been appointed to a transition team or a federal post-including two cabinet secretaries and 24 ambassadors. In fiscal year 2002, more than 100 companies employing these same top bundlers received federal contracts. The value of these contracts: $84.1 billion.
Most of the young rainmakers The Observer spoke with bristled at the suggestion that their fund-raising efforts are motivated by anything other than altruism. Ms. Factor said that neither she nor her husband had their sights on a federal contract, and a handful of baby bundlers, including Mr. Spangler, said they had no desire to go into politics-at least not in the foreseeable future. But at least one young Maverick did admit that membership in Mr. Bush’s elite donor circle could have its privileges.
“I’m pretty content being the man behind the man, but I never rule that out [going into politics],” said Mr. Keber. “I guess the great thing about being involved at this level now is that you can keep yourself immersed, and then if there’s ever a good opportunity, you’re already right on the sidelines. You can find yourself in the game without too much trouble.”