Redefining Democratic Fundraising
Instead, thanks to the Internet, an energized liberal base and his good fortune in Iowa, Kerry rewrote the rule.
Old Assumptions Prove False
As the start of 2003, Kerry's campaign assumed he could capitalize on his front-runner status to outraise his Democratic opponents, thereby demonstrating the inevitability of his presidential bid to watchful Democratic constituencies. "We operated on the assumption that money trumped everything," one of Kerry's strategists recalled about those early days.
To make this plan a reality, Kerry turned to a small collection of Democratic high rollers, many of whom had been active in his four Senate campaigns and in national party politics. His campaign treasurer was Bob Farmer, a legendary party fundraiser who had been crucial to former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis's success in winning the 1988 Democratic nomination. Another major fundraiser was Alan Solomont of Massachusetts, the owner of a chain of nursing homes and former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
As Bush did in 2000 with his Pioneer program, the Kerry campaign established a system for recognizing successful fundraisers: Those fundraisers who raised at least $100,000 for the campaign were given the title "vice chairs." Unlike the Bush campaign, which conducts rigorous tracking of fundraisers, Kerry campaign officials said they have an honor system for monitoring someone's claims of success.
The Kerry campaign has periodically released the names and home towns of these vice chairs, also known as "bundlers," so it is possible to see who his backers were before his campaign took off and who came on board as his nomination became more of a certainty.
In the early months of his candidacy, Kerry's fundraising strategy enjoyed mixed success, as he secured the support of 29 $100,000 bundlers. Among the trial lawyers who raised money for Kerry early in the campaign were Michael V. Ciresi of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP, who represented Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota in its successful $6.5 billion suit against the tobacco industry, and Michael T. Thorsnes, who recently retired from his San Diego law firm after winning $250 million in settlements and verdicts.
Longtime Kerry donors, such as partners of the Boston law and lobbying firm Mintz Levin, also kicked in considerable sums; employees of the firm have given $102,301 to his presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Kerry's brother Cameron is a telecommunications specialist at Mintz Levin, and former chief of staff David J. Leiter, a bundler for the campaign, is a lobbyist there.
A number of lobbyists with business before the Senate Finance Committee, on which Kerry served, were also on the senator's presidential bandwagon from the start. For example, the law and lobbying firm Piper Rudnick was among the early enlistees, with four Kerry bundlers -- former Michigan governor James J. Blanchard, John F. Merrigan, Matthew C. Bernstein and Jeffrey F. Liss, the firm's chief operating officer. Among Piper Rudnick's clients with interests before the finance panel are Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Northwest Airlines, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of Indianapolis, the National Association of Home Builders and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.
Also among the early vice chairs was Joseph H. Flom, name partner of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. The New York-based firm, which has four Kerry vice chairs, represents more than a dozen telecommunications, transportation and manufacturing firms with interests before Kerry committees.
By the end of 2003, Kerry had raised $19.2 million, not bad by traditional Democratic standards. But his strategy did not take into account the intense animosity toward Bush within the liberal base of the party and the willingness of thousands of smaller donors to back up their hostility with cash. And so Kerry lagged badly behind the candidate who recognized these new phenomena, former Vermont governor Dean, who collected $40 million.
"If we had had the Secret Service back in November and December, our code name would have been 'Dead Man Walking,' " said Kerry's finance chairman, Louis Susman, vice chairman of Citigroup Global Markets.
With the odds against him, Kerry mortgaged his house in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood and put $6.4 million of his own money into the campaign. The decision saved his candidacy, allowing him to continue to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire, leaving him positioned to capitalize on the collapse of Dean and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), another early leader in Iowa.
After Kerry won the Iowa caucuses, followed by victory in the New Hampshire primary, a precedent was created: Money flowed after victory, instead of victory going to the candidate with the most money.
"The world changed for us on January 19," Susman said.
© 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)