Thursday, October 16, 2003

Just about every person in South Dakota who has donated $1,000 or more to President Bush's re-election campaign is in Tom Everist's pocket PC.

Bundling contributions pays for Bush campaign

'Rangers' and 'Pioneers' round up lots of checks

By Jim Drinkard and Laurence McQuillan, USA TODAY

Just about every person in South Dakota who has donated $1,000 or more to President Bush's re-election campaign is in Tom Everist's pocket PC.

As a result, Everist, a wealthy businessman from Sioux Falls, is well on his way to becoming one of Bush's elite Rangers -- people who have raised at least $200,000 for the campaign by collecting checks of no more than $2,000 each from their friends, family and business associates.

"I've met all these people and figured out their potential for strong support for George Bush,'' Everist says.

Everist, 53, is part of a network of aggressive money raisers around the country that forms the backbone of the Bush money machine. From May 16, when fundraising began, through Sept. 30, the campaign amassed $83.9 million -- meaning people like Everist have raised close to $25,000 an hour, around the clock, seven days a week.

In totals released Tuesday, 100 Bush fundraisers had achieved Ranger status by Sept. 30, the end of the third quarter. Another 185 were designated ''Pioneers'' for hitting the $100,000 mark. Everist, who topped $100,000 by June 30, the end of the second quarter, has since raised more than $50,000 in a push to become a Ranger.

Bush collected $1.75 million at two more fundraising events Wednesday in California on the way to a goal of about $170 million. The money will pay for staff -- 130 people so far, and growing -- and for an extensive advertising campaign next year.

Bush's elite fundraisers span the worlds of finance, real estate, industry and politics. The common denominator: each is wealthy and has access to others with fortunes. With few exceptions, they are white, male and over 50.

The Rangers include:
  • William DeWitt Jr. of Cincinnati, head of an investment firm and co-owner of the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • Billionaire Richard Egan of Hopkinton, Mass., founder of EMC Corp., which makes computer data storage units. He is the president's former ambassador to Ireland. His sons Christopher and Michael also are Rangers.
  • Art dealer Frank Fowler of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., who represents the work of American artist Andrew Wyeth.
  • Alex Spanos of Stockton, Calif., a real estate developer and owner of the San Diego Chargers.
The practice of rounding up contributions from your friends is known as ''bundling.'' And under a campaign-finance law that took effect last November, those who do it, in both parties, are the new kings of political money. ''This is the wave of the future,'' says Scott Reed, a Republican political strategist and manager of Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign.

The law bars the national parties from collecting huge corporate, union and individual donations, so people who can round up lots of smaller checks from their friends and business associates have become the most sought-after volunteers in politics. The new maximum contribution to a presidential candidate is $2,000 for the primaries. (The general election is financed by the government.) It takes a lot of individual contributions to fuel today's advertising-intensive campaigns.

"The first primary is the race for the best bundlers,'' says David Jones, a Democratic fundraising consultant.

Jobs, influence and barbecues

Fundraising professionals say that when it comes to soliciting contributions of $2,000, one factor is paramount: who is asking.

''First and foremost, people give because the right person asks them to. It's somebody they have a relationship with from a business or social or political perspective,'' Jones says. CEOs make the best bundlers, experts say, because they can tap executives who work for them along with vendors and contractors who sell to them.

''They will feel they need to give for business reasons,'' Jones says. ''It almost doesn't matter who the candidate is.''

"In today's business, there is a lot of, 'If you can help me, I can help you on your projects','' Reed says. ''A lot of horse trading goes on.''

Motives for becoming a bundler can include the possibility of increased influence on government policy and consideration for appointment to ambassadorships and other government posts. More than 60 of Bush's 241 Pioneers in the 2000 campaign went on to receive appointive positions, says Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, a group that has tracked Bush's fundraising.

''There are going to have to be a bunch of new U.S. ambassadors, and you might as well be in the running,'' says one of Bush's fundraisers, who declined to allow his name to be used for fear he would hurt his chances of being chosen.

Others, such as Everist, take on the job of fundraising because of longstanding party loyalty. Still others do it out of friendship with the candidate or the chance to feel part of the power elite. Bush's biggest fundraisers have been invited to Crawford, Texas, for barbecues with the president.

In a deposition given in connection with a court challenge to the new campaign-finance law, Bush fundraiser Jack Oliver described how the campaign tapped a list of people who had attended Harvard Business School with Bush. The campaign also sought help from several industries, including investment, banking, insurance, oil, airlines and the arts.

Those industries apparently were eager to get credit with the campaign for their contributions. Documents disclosed in the campaign-finance case included a memo from Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for electric utilities.

In it, he reminded industry colleagues of the importance of including his tracking number, 1178, on their checks to the Bush campaign, to ''ensure that our industry is credited, and that your progress is listed among the other business/industry sectors.''

The watchdog group Common Cause has identified 14 Pioneers from 2000 whose business interests benefited from Bush administration decisions, primarily through the easing of federal regulations. Those fundraisers ''prospered in their investment in the 2000 campaign,'' charged the group, which supports reform of the public finance system for presidential campaigns. Bush's ability to raise large amounts has allowed him to opt out of that system for the primaries.

In a deposition for the court case, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who sponsored the campaign-finance law, expressed concern that bundling might be the next loophole in the law he helped write. It ''could conceivably begin to recreate something that would begin to look like'' the old system in which the parties could collect unlimited donations from a person or group, he said.

Making 'the ask'

Everist fits the description of an ideal bundler.

He built up a fourth-generation family business that quarries stone and sells ready-mix concrete, in South Dakota and across the country. His company helped build Washington's Dulles International Airport and has operations throughout the Midwest and West. He has made connections as head of the state Chamber of Commerce, a member of the local hospital board of directors and a Sioux Falls economic-development board, as well as from his involvement in Republican politics. His wife, Barbara, was the state Senate majority leader.

When the Bush campaign's national finance chairman, Mercer Reynolds, called him earlier this year with a recruiting pitch, Everist didn't jump at it. ''This is a small state, and it's hard to make much of an impact on national races,'' he says. ''There is a feeling here that our dollars do more good in local and state races.''

But Reynolds -- who himself bundled upward of $600,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign -- ultimately won by appealing to Everist's admiration for the president.

''I went through my list of people who I figured would be inclined to help out,'' Everist says. ''I called them and said 'I'm asking you to join Barb and myself to support the president with early money.' I got 80% to 90% of the people I called to say 'yes' '' to a contribution of $1,000 or $2,000, he says.

He did it by calling people such as Mark Griffin, the president of a regional chain of 25 drugstores that sell everything from prescriptions to lawn mowers. The two have served on boards and gone to the same fundraisers. But Griffin says he's not a diehard Republican. Indeed, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate's Democratic leader, once filmed political ads in Griffin's office.

''I'm more of a policy person,'' Griffin says. He is especially concerned about how Congress writes a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries. He gave $2,000. He says he felt a responsibility to support the president.

Another entry in Everist's database is Steve Kirby, an investor and former lieutenant governor of the state. Everist called him and asked for a contribution, as Kirby had done to Everist on occasion.

''We essentially trade checks, and it was his turn to call me,'' Kirby says. Loyal Republicans, he and his wife, Suzette, each gave $2,000.

Other political contacts Everist tapped included South Dakota Gov. Michael Rounds and his wife, Jean, who gave $2,000 apiece. Former congressman John Thune, now a Washington lobbyist, gave $1,000 and hosted a fundraising reception at his Sioux Falls home.

Everist once served on the board of Sioux Valley Hospitals & Health System, the city's main hospital; his wife is currently on the board. That was the connection for at least $7,000 in contributions from hospital CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, his wife, Heidi, and surgeons Gary Timmerman and John Vanderwoude.

There are personal friends as well, such as Mark Graham, owner of a packaging company, and his wife, Pat, whose children carpooled with the Everists. Another friend is Larry Ness, president of First Dakota National Bank. ''Tom called and said, 'Our goal is $100,000, and I want to get it over and done with. Help us out here,' '' Ness recalls. ''So I said yes.''

''Tom is involved in nearly everything in the community and is very generous,'' Thune says. ''He can ask people because he is the first person people come to for support for community or civic or political fundraising projects. He knows the people who are likely to be supportive, and he's the kind of person who can make the ask.''

Turning donors into fundraisers

Although Bush has raised bundling to a new level, he's not the only one to practice it. Many Democratic candidates for president are seeking to emulate Bush's model.

''Every fundraising event I have had has yielded other people who will do fundraising events, and that's what you seek to do,'' Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., says. ''It's like a giant Tupperware party.''

Part of the challenge is to convert big-money donors into big-money raisers, and it's not always a sure bet. ''There's not always a correlation between somebody who can write you a $50,000 check and someone who can raise 25 $2,000 checks,'' Gephardt says. ''That's a very different human skill.''

Other Democrats also are working hard at bundling donations.
  • Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has created a ''Hall of Fame'' designation for his $100,000 bundlers. The campaign says there are about 10 members of the group so far, concentrated in Massachusetts, but he declines to disclose their names.
  • Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, has benefited from supporters who can leverage their extensive contacts into campaign donations. Actor-director Rob Reiner raised $125,000 for Dean at an event at his house in Los Angeles on June 18.
  • Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina takes advantage of his connections as a plaintiff's lawyer through chief fundraiser Fred Baron, whose Dallas law firm has given heavily to the campaign. Baron's network is a wide one because he headed the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
The Democratic and Republican parties are watching the process closely. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee compared its 200,000-name donor list to a database of the wealthiest 5% of Americans and found one-fourth of the names matched.

The average contribution from those on the list? Forty-two dollars. ''We're asking them for the wrong amount of money,'' says executive director Andrew Grossman. Asking for more may require a personal touch -- as the Bush campaign already has shown.