Fundraisers Tap Those Who Can't Say No

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007

When Michael A. Mingolelli pulled out his checkbook on June 25 and made a $500 pledge to Sen. John McCain, he was not thinking about the promise of a McCain White House. The financial and estate planner from Farmington, Mass., was thinking about keeping one of his best customers satisfied.

"One of my dear clients asked me if I would help contribute and I said yes, even if I don't think McCain's going to win," Mingolelli said. "And to be honest, if it came down to McCain and Romney, I'd probably go with Romney," he added, referring to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R).

The kind of solicitation directed at Mingolelli is not unusual as presidential candidates grow more reliant on their stables of "bundlers" -- well-connected supporters who can tap vast networks of associates for money and whose special status in a campaign is enshrined with such honorifics as "Ranger" (President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign) or "Hillraiser" (Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign).

The bundlers are under their own kind of pressure to produce for their candidates. And they pass it on -- corporate executives hitting up employees, real estate developers seeking checks from vendors and law partners prevailing upon less-senior lawyers.

One sign of where this pressure -- direct and indirect -- is applied is the rising number of contributions from secretaries, administrative assistants and executive assistants for whom a $1,000 political contribution is a major expense. At this point in the campaign four years ago, 127 donors making contributions listed one of those three occupations. In the first six months of this year the number was 526, and the average check was for nearly $800.

"Almost everyone raising the big money these days will tell you: You start your fundraising network by thinking of people . . . who can't say no," said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University professor who has studied the psychology of political giving. "They may not tell the person they have to give, or even imply it, but both of them know that's not true."

Democrat Bill Richardson, for example, the lone sitting governor in the 2008 presidential race, collected 274 contributions totaling more than $236,000 from New Mexico state employees. The outpouring ranged from $2,300 from Richardson's lieutenant governor, Diane Denish, to $150 from Alfred Newman, who identified himself as a state disability adjudicator when he made his donation June 29.

Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley described the number of New Mexico employees who donated as "a great show of support from the people who get the work done every day for this state."

The 2008 candidates have already collected $277 million -- more in the first six months of this year than candidates in the last presidential election cycle gathered during all of 2003. With the demand to find new sources of money, White House hopefuls have shifted their attention from the merely wealthy to the well-connected. They shower attention on those with the networking skills to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in increments of $2,300, the legal limit.

"All this has created intense pressure on folks to work the Rolodexes really hard and really beat the bushes," said Scott Thomas, a former Federal Election Commission chairman. "It's not unusual to expect circumstances where someone higher up is leaning on an employee to cough up money."

And for the most part, it is not illegal, he said. The Federal Election Commission prohibits corporate executives or labor leaders from "facilitating" contributions from their subordinates. But that's as far as the language goes, he said.

In interviews, several first-time donors said they were asked by their bosses to write checks, but almost all said they considered their contributions voluntary. Pedro Canas, a chauffeur employed by the private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners in San Francisco, said he made his $2,300 donation to McCain (R-Ariz.) after a company official called him.

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