The Race to the White HouseFundraisers Are Collecting by the Bundle for Bush Camp
By Lisa Getter, Times Staff Writer
April 2, 2004
LAKEWOOD, N.J. — Lawrence E. Bathgate II is on the phone, tallying contributions for President Bush's 152nd fundraiser, which he is co-chairing. "He'll have his 10 by next week," he says. Another man, he says, has "eight, not four," which is an unexpected surprise. Another "is coming out of the hospital today. He's good for 10."
Bathgate is counting in the thousands, of course. The checks arrive at his law office in packages, bundles of contributions of no more than $2,000, collected by friends, associates and business contacts.
Multimillionaire lawyer, developer, banker and veteran GOP fundraiser, Bathgate is one of hundreds of volunteers who have helped Bush's reelection campaign amass more than $175 million in nine months, the most ever collected in a presidential race. Much of the money has been collected at fundraisers, like the one featuring Vice President Dick Cheney that Bathgate helped organize last week.
Now that the Bush campaign has reached its record-breaking goal, it is ending its string of fundraising events headlined by Bush and Cheney. On Monday, the president will appear at a final fundraising lunch in Charlotte, Va.
Bathgate says he has collected more than $500,000 for the campaign, and his techniques offer a glimpse into the Bush money machine and how it proved so successful. He not only tapped people he knew for money, he persuaded them to reach out to others. Before long, his Rolodex expanded exponentially.
The Bush campaign, meanwhile, has kept track of how much he and other major fundraisers collected,creating a type of rivalry among them.
"They're doing such an amazing job of getting people's competitive juices going," said Kirk Jowers, a Republican election lawyer in Washington. "As I talk to people around town, it's like watching my daughter and her friends sell Girl Scout cookies. Who can raise the most money?"
Bathgate is just one of 187 so-called Rangers who have each collected $200,000 or more in contributions. Another 268 Pioneers have each raised $100,000. And 32 Mavericks, who are 40 or younger, have funneled at least $50,000 to the president's campaign.
These efforts have given Bush a huge financial edge over Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee. But Bush's national finance director, Travis Thomas, said the campaign would continue raising money.
At its current rate through direct mail solicitations alone, the campaign will reach the $200-million mark by summer.
Kerry recently began a similar fundraising operation, which helped his campaign amass more than $40 million in the first three months of this year. That was more than any other Democratic presidential candidate has collected in a quarter, easily surpassing the almost $15 million raised by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the last three months of 2003.
Since Kerry began his candidacy last year, he has raised at least $65 million.
Under federal law, individuals can give no more than $2,000 to the presidential candidates. It is this limit that makes fundraisers with large networks of contributors so important.
Top Bush fundraisers bundle hundreds of donations in personal checks or credit card receipts — allowing contributors to amass airline miles — and send them to the campaign with a personal tracking number so they get credit for the money.
One Washington lobbyist and Ranger, who did not want his name used because his comments might anger the Bush campaign, said he was raising as much as possible for the president "so my life is easier at the convention." He said the top fundraisers would get the best hotel rooms and buses, and special access to a hospitality suite in New York at the Republican National Convention.
"From my perspective, it's worth it," the lobbyist said. "I might take a client with me. It's kind of an investment, knowing what's coming at me."
For Bathgate, 64, raising money — and spending it — is a way of life. He has raised money for charities, the arts and education. Once, he was on the board of eight different schools at the same time.
A self-described pack rat, he bought Thomas Jefferson's dining room table at auction years ago, but it is now in a warehouse. English sport paintings adorn his office. A baseball signed by all-time great Dodger pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale is stuffed into a crowded shelf, a collectible Bathgate no longer remembers acquiring.
He was a millionaire several times over by the time he turned 30. He has had mostly ups — and one publicized downfall in the early 1990s when federal regulators sued him over $21 million in defaulted loans.
Those bad days are behind him. He travels from New Jersey to New York City by helicopter to check on his investment in a merchant bank, lives in an oceanfront house that once belonged to the Bristol family of drug company giant Bristol- Myers Squibb, and has a thriving land business in the mid-Atlantic.
Bathgate once thought he'd end up in politics. Top fundraisers, after all, often get plum jobs from the politicians they help elect. But the timing for Bathgate was never right.
A close friend and major supporter of President George H.W. Bush, he served as national finance chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1987 to 1992.
But Bathgate wanted to spend more time with his family during the first Bush administration and then Bush lost re-election. So he turned his attention back to his businesses and three children.
Still, Bathgate has remained close to the Bush family. Now, he's on the committee planning the 80th birthday celebration for "41" — the former president's nickname because he was the 41st president — helping raise $41 million for cancer research to honor him.
Bathgate estimates he has spent "every single day for the last six weeks" working on the $1,000-a-person fundraiser for Bush's son.
He sent 933 invitations, each with a handwritten note, telling guests he needed their support. "That means they'll be able to ask me for help in something that's important to them," he said.
Seventy-two hours before the event, he was still hitting people up for money. "I've been Bush-Cheneying all day today. I'm a little crazed," he told one caller.
The fundraiser was the third in New Jersey in this campaign. Many of Bathgate's contacts had already contributed the maximum $2,000. "I maxed out last July. My children all maxed out. What happens is you run out of people," he said. "You have to find new people."
Knowing there was support for Bush in Lakewood's Jewish community, Bathgate made sure there was kosher food at the event, as well as three kinds of shrimp, scallops wrapped in bacon, mini quiches, crudites, salads and pasta.
Whether on the phone, sending letters or schmoozing at an event, he makes the pitch: Bundle money for the campaign and "get an opportunity for a photo op for you and the vice president. If you want, your wife and two children, tell me. I'll make that happen."
The big bundlers, those who collected at least $25,000, got a chance to sit at a round table with Cheney at the fundraiser and ask questions — "kind of your own 'Meet the Press,' " Bathgate said.
The Chateau Grand, a catering hall more accustomed to weddings than visits from the White House, opened more than an hour before Cheney was to arrive. Inside, Bathgate mingled. "Nobody can out-raise Larry. He's the best," said lawyer Hersh Koslov, a Pioneer who described fundraising as "a business of concentric circles."
While some sipped drinks from the open bar and munched on food, a line of about 100 heavy hitters waited to have their photos taken with Cheney.
The attendees included local GOP politicians, as well as former Gov. Christie Whitman, herself a Ranger and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency. There were workers from Ocean County, which has been under GOP control for more than 150 years.
And there were people like mortgage broker Doug Fuhrman, who came because a Bathgate associate told him about the event during a meeting.
"He said, 'For all I know, you might be a Democrat,' " Fuhrman recalled of Bathgate.
Although Fuhrman has not been active politically, he supports Bush and says this year's election is "extremely important." And if his attendance turns out to be good for business, "that's all well and good," he said.
The campaign estimates it collected $400,000 at the event. There have been five more since, including one this week in Washington that listed 83 co-hosts, among them lobbyists, trade group executives, lawyers and, bankers..
Bundling money is nothing new, but it still troubles watchdog organizations.
"The Bush team has refined the bundling operation to a high art. The problem with all these bundling schemes is that they're contrary to the spirit of campaign finance laws, which limits the amount of money or clout any single American should have with a politician," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in Texas politics.
After the 2000 campaign, Bush appointed 24 Pioneers as U.S. ambassadors. He named four other Pioneers to his Cabinet — Don Evans as Commerce secretary, Tom Ridge as director of Homeland Security, Elaine Chao as secretary of the Labor Department and Alphonso Jackson as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
In this campaign, top fundraisers have been invited to appreciation events — including one this weekend in Georgia at the Reynolds Plantation resort, where they can play golf and meet with Cheney and Bush. They also get access to campaign conference calls, which have featured Bush's political advisor Karl Rove and First Lady Laura Bush.
Among the Pioneers and Rangers are Wall Street chief executives, real estate developers, trade group presidents, lawyers, lobbyists and executives representing such industries as insurance, oil and gas, healthcare and pharmaceuticals.
Dirk Van Dongen falls into that group. President of the National Assn. of Wholesaler Distributors, a trade group that represents about 40,000 companies, he said he became a Ranger last month.
"Raising money for this president is more order-taking than selling because of the affection he is held [in] by the business community," said Van Dongen, who was named by Bush to the commerce transition team in 2000.
Bush began the Pioneer program four years ago. James B. Francis, a Dallas businessman and friend, came up with the idea after being inundated with people who wanted to "do something significant" for the campaign and were frustrated by only being able to donate $1,000, the legal limit at the time.
"What we've got to do is turn these people into systematic money raisers," he said.
The Ranger and Maverick categories were added this time around for the 2004 campaign.
Chris Cole, 29, of Las Vegas is working toward Maverick status. He phones friends, relatives and business associates, collecting "$50 here, $100 here, $200 here and there."
"I got to meet the president. I got my picture taken. It was really cool," said Cole, who works for Sig Rogich, a communications executive who worked in the White House for Bush's father. Rogich is a Ranger.
"Maybe some day I'll get into politics, do something like my boss does," Cole said. "It probably would help me out in my career."
Among President Bush's top fundraisers in 2000, Bush named 24 Pioneers as U.S. ambassadors. Here is a list of some of them:
George Argyros (Spain): CEO of Arnel & Affiliates, a Costa Mesa real estate firm; former owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team.
H. Douglas Barclay (El Salvador): New York attorney and former New York state senator.
Anthony Gioia (Malta): CEO of a Buffalo, N.Y., investment firm; former chairman of National Pasta Assn.
Franklin Lavin (Singapore): Asia-based banker from Ohio; served in Reagan and Bush administrations.
Howard Leach (France): Ran a Florida timber and land company and another firm in San Francisco; served as a University of California regent from 1990-2001.
John N. Palmer Sr. (Portugal): Mississippi telecom executive; trade advisor in Reagan and Bush administrations.
John Ong (Norway): Former CEO of BF Goodrich in Ohio.
Martin Silverstein (Uruguay): Philadelphia attorney
Craig Stapleton (Czech Republic): Connecticut native and president of Marsh & McLennan Real Estate Advisors.
Stephen Brauer (Belgium): St. Louis businessman and community leader; part-owner of the Cardinals baseball team.
Richard Egan (Ireland): Founder of EMC Corp., which makes computer equipment in Massachusetts; has two sons who are also Rangers this year.
Nancy Brinker (Hungary): Founding chairwoman of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Dallas
Source: Times staff research, Texans for Public Justice, U.S. State Department, White House