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Turning 50 Into $2 Million

Birthday Celebration Is Biggest Fundraiser for Gov. Warner's PAC

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page B01

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) celebrated his 50th birthday last night with 1,000 of his closest personal friends, who together gave him the best present a politician could think of: a $2 million gift certificate to spend however he wants.

Friends, supporters, lobbyists, high-tech pals and political hangers-on crammed the main ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner for the bash, which featured a performance by the Capitol Steps and some good-natured and slightly off-color jabs by the governor's wife, Lisa Collis.

Gov. Mark R. Warner lifts his glass for a toast during the birthday dinner, which cemented his reputation as one of Virginia's best political fundraisers. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

"It's a helluva shindig," said James W. Dyke Jr., a Tysons lawyer-lobbyist, as he fought through throngs of people at an early evening open-bar reception before the dinner of petit filets, sea bass, vegetable trio and a salad covered with candied walnuts and goat cheese.

Collis headlined the event with a list of the top 10 reasons to be glad that Warner is 50. The No. 9 reason: "It offers new opportunities. How much longer can Bob Dole continue doing Viagra ads?"

The evening marks the biggest-ever fundraiser for Warner's political action committee, One Virginia, since he became governor three years ago. Mary A. "Mame" Reiley, the PAC director, said she expected to collect about $2 million.

Reiley said invitees came from New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and the District, though guests who fought the region's traffic into Tysons said it took hours. "Anybody who drove in here tonight will support more transportation funding," joked Rick Cornwell, a lobbyist for Verizon.

And the dinner cements Warner's reputation as one of the most successful political fundraisers in Virginia history.

"Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, $2 million is a rock star total," said Jim Lamb, the president of Commonwealth Consultants and the chief fundraiser for Warner's 2001 Republican opponent, Mark L. Earley.

In 1999, then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) celebrated his 50th birthday by raising $1 million in a series of five events over three days.

Warner himself raised the bar at a bash last year. The event, also at the Ritz, drew 559 people and raised $1 million for Warner's PAC. Longtime political observers said it was the first one-day event to top the million-dollar mark.

Last night's event was made possible by Warner's repeated attempts to move beyond the Democratic Party's traditional base of support in fundraising. A successful high-tech businessman, Warner was elected in part because he persuaded wealthy Republican executives to contribute.

Since then, Warner has co-opted the Republican issue of fiscal conservatism and positioned himself as a moderate who appeals to Republicans and Democrats.

Members of both parties said Warner's fundraising prowess is remarkable because he is essentially a lame-duck governor for the next year. Virginia law bars governors from succeeding themselves.

So the question on everyone's lips last night: What will he do with all the money?

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