Redefining Democratic Fundraising
Kerry Has Amassed Record Sums From Disparate Groups Opposed to Bush
By Thomas B. Edsall, James V. Grimaldi and Alice R. Crites
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 24, 2004; Page A01
John F. Kerry has created the most effective fundraising machine in Democratic Party history by tapping disparate interests -- trial lawyers, financial services executives, social liberals, teachers, Hollywood figures and others -- united by their antipathy to President Bush.
Through June 30, the machine amassed $186.2 million, five times as much as any previous Democratic contender. It started from a small base of longtime associates, some with business before Kerry's Senate committees, and grew meteorically after Kerry's victory in the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses.
Kerry fundraisers and donors and campaign finance specialists say the Massachusetts senator's success reflects an energized Democratic base. Especially at the smaller-donation level, they say, the Kerry money machine is dominated by educated liberals who opposed the war in Iraq, favor abortion rights and gun control -- and despise the Bush administration.
"I'm very disturbed by Bush, the theocratic nature of his presidency, the subliminal nature of his speech that makes references to the Bible," said Thomas Anderson, 46, of Baton Rouge, La. Anderson, who runs his own security firm, had never given more than $20 to a political candidate before 2004. Now, he has given $300 in three $100 Internet donations to Kerry, and he expects to give as much as $1,000.
To understand the Kerry money machine, The Washington Post interviewed many of his chief fundraisers, campaign and party officials, political scientists, and donors themselves. It reviewed studies by watchdog groups and campaign finance Web sites, including the Center for Responsive Politics, Public Citizen and PoliticalMoneyLine. It also closely analyzed the background and contribution patterns of the chief fundraisers for Kerry -- the 263 campaign vice chairs who have collected at least $100,000 for his candidacy.
The analysis shows:
• Lawyers, especially trial lawyers, are the engine of the Kerry fundraising operation. Lawyers and law firms have given more money to Kerry, $12 million, than any other sector. One out of four of Kerry's big-dollar fundraisers is a lawyer, and one out of 10 is an attorney for plaintiffs in personal injury, medical malpractice or other lawsuits seeking damages.
• Much of the seed money for the Kerry presidential campaign was collected through donors to his Senate campaigns, including lobbyists with interests before two of the Senate committees on which Kerry serves: the Finance Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
• Fueling Kerry's money surge havebeen credit card collections on the Internet, a technique pioneered by his onetime rival Howard Dean in 2003 but used with even greater success this year by the presumptive Democratic nominee. Kerry has been raising more than $10 million a month on the Internet, for a total of more than $65 million, compared with $8.7 million for Bush in the past year, according to officials with both campaigns.
• Kerry appears to have succeeded in creating a new class of donors for the Democratic Party. Dozens of his fundraisers are relative neophytes in big-money politics and have not been active in making their own contributions. A review of federal campaign contributions of the big Kerry fundraisers shows that one-third of them have not made more than $20,000 in campaign contributions since 1990.
• Kerry's donor base is overwhelmingly bicoastal. Almost half of the big-money fundraisers hail from either California or New York. Seventeen of the fundraisers are from Kerry's home of Massachusetts. Kerry has substantially outraised Bush in California and New York, $39.7 million to $28.5 million; Bush has crushed the Democrat in Florida and Texas, $36 million to $8 million.
After he accepts the Democratic Party's nomination Thursday in Boston, Kerry has indicated, he will take $75 million in federal funds for the general election. Under federal campaign law, he will not be permitted to spend private funds on the campaign, although he may transfer to the Democratic Party any unspent money as of his nomination.
Still, his fundraising success has helped transform the presidential contest. Instead of an overwhelming financial advantage for Bush, who has raised $228 million, Kerry has achieved rough parity, especially when the money of pro-Democratic independent groups is factored in.
At the beginning of 2004, such parity could scarcely be imagined. At the time, Kerry was being heavily outraised by Dean, and his effort to preempt the Democratic field by raising more money than anybody else was a bust. The ironclad rule of Democratic nomination battles seemed likely to hold: The candidate with the most money raised by Dec. 31 in the year before the election -- Dean in this case -- would be the party nominee.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, right, introduces Democratic candidate John F. Kerry at the Democrats United fundraising dinner in March. The Massachusetts senator has united factions within the Democratic Party.
(Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)