Sunday, August 29, 2004

With pride, Potomac real estate financier Sheldon P. Kamins calls himself a "Double Ranger," a title extolling the $400,000 he has raised for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.

President to gain money, if not votes, from state

By David Nitkin, Baltimore Sun
August 29, 2004

With pride, Potomac real estate financier Sheldon P. Kamins calls himself a "Double Ranger," a title extolling the $400,000 he has raised for President George W. Bush's re-election campaign.

"You do it for no other reason than what you believe in," said Kamins, explaining how he has persuaded 200 friends and colleagues to give $2,000 apiece - twice the number of donors needed to earn the simpler but still-impressive "Ranger" label from the Bush-Cheney campaign.

With the Republican National Convention set to start tomorrow in New York City, vocal GOP supporters in Maryland recognize that the state almost certainly won't deliver its 10 electoral votes to the president.

Bush trails the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, by double digits in Maryland polls, and the state is not considered competitive in the current election cycle.

But a small but influential group is handing over the next best thing: a lot of cash.

Maryland is home to 10 Bush Pioneers and Rangers, "bundlers" each committed to raising either $100,000 or $200,000, respectively, through a sophisticated and growing network that Bush established in 1999 and fine-tuned during this campaign.

They include construction company owner Barton Mitchell of Brooklandville; Melvyn Estrin of Bethesda, who once headed the influential political action committee launched by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Richard E. Hug, the finance chairman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign and a member of the university system's Board of Regents.

$3.3 million for Bush

Through early August, those fund-raisers helped Maryland provide $3.3 million for Bush, making it the 17th most generous state for the president, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit research group Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

In the Baltimore region, Bush has raised $1.2 million, compared with $900,000 for Kerry.

During the same period, Maryland donors delivered $4.1 million for Kerry, making it his eighth-best state.

The Maryland numbers are particularly impressive for the GOP, Hug said, because the state's registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1.

"When you look at how much we've raised per Republican, we are one of the top states, if not the top state," he said.

In a flash of the friendly competition that the Bush campaign has fostered among its Rangers and Pioneers, Hug noted that he can do Kamins one better because he has been designated a Super Ranger. Translation: Hug has raised at least $300,000 on top of the $200,000 required for initial Ranger status.

The Bush campaign has released names of Rangers and Pioneers since 1999 in response to questions from Texas journalists, said Craig L. McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which maintains a donor database.

But the president has not revealed exactly how much each donor has raised, even though the campaign keeps careful track of such information through code numbers that the bundlers tell people to write on their checks.

"We think the disclosure is still inadequate, and they are using tricks of the campaign finance law not to disclose," McDonald said.

"It's the new soft money, now that corporation 'X' can't give $100,000 to the party," he said, referring to the unlimited donations banned by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. "There's virtually no difference, just a little more work."

The Texas group is tracking the 544 Rangers and Pioneers identified by the Bush campaign, as well as their professions. "Seventy percent of them are CEOs and business executives," McDonald said. "We think they want access to the regulatory structure."

Both Hug and Kamins say they expect nothing but good government for their efforts.

"Financial support is another way of voting for this president, with your pocketbook," Kamins said. "His leadership has a direct impact on Maryland. The question of the electoral votes of Maryland is not relevant. It's a question of him getting the resources to get his message out."

Bush, as governor of Texas, first courted Hug in 1998, having noticed that the businessman raised a then-record $6.4 million for former state Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey's unsuccessful run for Maryland governor.

Bush and Hug met in Austin for lunch, and Hug was impressed.

Since entering the network, Hug said, nearly $1 million has been credited to his tracking number.

He said he sees the president six or seven times a year, at the White House Christmas party and other events. But it is not access that keeps him motivated.

Access, information

"The way they hook you is they give a lot of information, a lot of insight into the campaign," Hug said. "It makes the average person feel they are in the know."

Not surprisingly, several Rangers and Pioneers are also Ehrlich supporters.

"We know most, if not all, of these folks," the governor said. "Some of these folks we talked to early on."

Indeed, Hug copied the Bush strategy and created the concept of Ehrlich Pioneers for the 2002 gubernatorial election. Seventeen donors were responsible for raising $100,000 each, getting lapel pins for their efforts. Hug helped Ehrlich raise $11 million.

But the future success of the Republican Party in Maryland depends less on big donors than on the participation of more moderate givers, Ehrlich said.

"Regardless of your performance in any particular state, there will always be Rangers, major givers," Ehrlich said. "This issue is to get the moderate activism and interest, $10, $25 check-writers."

Even though Maryland is not considered a battleground in the presidential election, volunteers here remain enthusiastic, and donors are eager to contribute, said John M. Kane, chairman of the state Republican Party.

"He needs every dime that we can raise," Kane said.

Rangers and Pioneers are not receiving red carpet treatment during the convention, he insists, saying that the bundlers must pay for their own hotel rooms and transportation.

"Some people think it is just a big party for the fat cats, but it's not that way at all," Kane said. "They have to pay their way, number one. And second, most of them aren't fat."