Bush network fine-tunes the art of fundraisingBY Greg Gordon, Washington Bureau
August 6, 2004
WASHINGTON, D.C.-- In raising a record-shattering $228 million, President Bush's reelection campaign has relied on a coast-to-coast network of more than 500 money bundlers who each delivered $100,000, $200,000 or more.
These fundraisers include not only Republican politicians such as Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but also dozens of lobbyists and executives of oil companies, drug makers, HMOs, investment houses and computer software firms.
Also among them are two of Minnesota's most prominent business leaders: Warren Staley, chairman and chief executive officer of agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., and Dr. William McGuire, chairman and CEO of the UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest for-profit health maintenance organization.
Bush's bundlers -- so-called Pioneers, who rustled up at least $100,000, and Rangers, who raked in $200,000 or more -- have helped turn his 2000 and 2004 campaigns into Texas-sized money machines.
Political watchdog groups criticize the arrangement, saying it enables key fundraisers and corporate executives seeking favorable policy decisions to curry favor with the president. They also point to Bush's receipt of tens of millions of dollars from interests that have gained from his pro-business policies.
Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based watchdog group, says the administration has showered its money bundlers "with presidential sleepovers, appointments and contracts," while promoting laws and rules "that benefit entire industries."
Bush campaign spokeswoman Tracy Schmitt rejects such criticism, saying the president bases his policies on "what's right for the country and will continue to work to strengthen the economy and fight the war on terror."
She said the campaign is proud of broad-based backing "from more than 1 million supporters representing every county in the country and ... all walks of life." The donations average $129.
Schmitt said Bush's campaign, whose Web site lists the top money bundlers, should be credited for unprecedented disclosure.
But Charles Lewis, director of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, says he is troubled by the "close confluence" of Bush administration policies and millions of dollars in campaign donations from an array of industries.
Employees of brokerage and investment houses and insurance companies gave $13.3 million to Bush, the most from any industry sector, topped by $510,725 from employees of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, according to an analysis of campaign finance reports by Dwight L. Morris and Associates.
Lewis said these firms had to be "utterly thrilled and delighted" with Bush policies favoring income tax cuts, the elimination of taxes on stock dividends and privatization of a portion of the Social Security trust fund.
He said the financial houses also must be pleased that the administration has taken a "hands off" approach to taxing the off-shore holdings of some of their biggest clients.
Critics also cite $8.5 million in donations from lawyers and lobbyists, $6 million from health care interests and $4 million from manufacturers.
The administration has:
Sided with drug makers in resisting a consumer push to let seniors "reimport" cheaper drugs from Canada.
Killed ergonomics regulations aimed at forcing industry to protect workers from an epidemic of repetitive trauma injuries -- rules the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had vehemently opposed.
Rolled back Clinton administration rules protecting "roadless" sections of national forests and other public lands from timber cutting and oil drilling.
Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political science professor, said he doubts the donations are "buying" policies. Rather, he said, business executives are making "very generous" contributions because they are "very excited" to have a president sympathetic to business concerns.
Bush left the political world agape in 2000 when he raised a record $94 million while besting Arizona Sen. John McCain and others in the primaries. His reelection campaign has made that feat a distant memory, raising $228 million by capitalizing on an overhaul of election laws that doubled individual donation limits, from $1,000 to $2,000. To underscore the proportions of his bankroll and the quirky laws surrounding campaign finance, Bush spent $46.8 million on fundraising and $83.8 million on advertising for this year's primaries, although he had no primary opposition, according to Dwight L. Morris and Associates.
As a condition of each receiving $74.6 million in public financing for this fall's general election campaign, Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry cannot use their primary money after each is formally nominated.
But election laws allow them to transfer it to the national parties, which can independently spend unlimited sums to support the candidates.
The Republican National Committee already has raised $96 million to aid Bush, emulating Bush's fundraising strategy by recruiting money bundlers. The RNC released the names of 62 "Super-Rangers," including Coleman and former Minnesota Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, who each raised at least $300,000 for the party.
In Minnesota, Bush has raised a record-breaking $2 million in large donations -- those of at least $200. His campaign declines to say how much was raised in the state in smaller donations.
Cargill employees have given Bush the most among Minnesota-based companies: $64,250.
As Bush's state finance chairman, the 73-year-old Boschwitz remains the state GOP's most prolific political fundraiser. Boschwitz said he has raised more than a half-million dollars for Bush.
Boschwitz, who lost many relatives in the Nazi Holocaust, said he tells partisans who hesitate about donating that his family and many others have suffered because of statesmen "who have dealt with tyranny mostly by trying to placate it or appease it or negotiate it or buy it off."
Bush, he said, "looks tyranny in the eye and says, 'You can't do that. If you do that, we're going to take you out.' "
Boschwitz has met periodically with Coleman and Pawlenty, Bush's Minnesota campaign co-chairs, to divvy up donor lists and set individual fundraising targets, Coleman said.
Coleman said he raised more than $200,000, largely by networking with GOP supporters "that have the capacity to raise $10,000 or $25,000." Coleman said they, in turn, helped him attain "Ranger" status by writing his designated number on each donor's check.
Coleman said he and Boschwitz each also sold $25,000 tickets to an April RNC fundraiser that Bush attended, promising donors a photo with the president. Cargill's Staley got involved because "he very much appreciates the president's leadership on trade expansion and getting the economy moving," company spokeswoman Lori Johnson said.
After raising money for Bush in the last campaign, Staley was named to the President's Export Council. But Johnson noted that President Bill Clinton named Staley's predecessor, Ernie Micek, to the same panel, showing that Staley's appointment stemmed mainly from Cargill's "long history of involvement on trade issues."
Ben Whitney, the executive director of Bush's Minnesota campaign who is also a "Ranger," and UnitedHealth Group's McGuire, a "Pioneer," declined to discuss their Bush fundraising.
The newcomer among Bush's elite Minnesota bundlers is Paul Maynard, 39, of Woodbury, a member of the accounting firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. Maynard said he got energized because of his deep belief that everything Bush does "is because he thinks it's good for all of our grandchildren or children, not because it's politically expedient or popular."
Maynard estimated that he has made 1,000 phone calls at night and on weekends, sometimes sneaking them in while waiting for his daughter to finish soccer practice. He said he has approached neighbors, members of his church and former classmates at Harding University, a religious-based school in Searcy, Ark.
The vast majority "never had done this in their lives," Maynard said. "People just came out of the woodwork in a big way. ... They feel that strongly about the guy."