By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
RICHMOND -- While his Democratic rivals confined their travels to Virginia, gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe quietly slipped out of the commonwealth a dozen times in recent weeks to attend fundraisers in his honor hosted by some of the nation's top Democratic donors.
One day this month, he dashed from a morning roundtable in Roanoke, caught a United Airlines flight to Phoenix and landed in time for an evening event hosted by an Arizona Democratic activist. On another, he left on a pre-dawn U.S. Airways flight that required a plane change in Charlotte to get from a Chicago fundraiser to a midday event in Lebanon, Va., near the North Carolina border.
McAuliffe, who spent decades building a reputation as one of the world's most successful political fundraisers, has traveled to New York, Hollywood, San Francisco, Houston, Miami and Syracuse, N.Y., for events often organized by those who count Bill and Hillary Clinton as close friends.
Although McAuliffe's national contacts will help him raise millions, his energetic fundraising outside the state risks giving ammunition to rivals who say he is an outsider in Virginia, out of touch with state politics and residents' concerns. But McAuliffe says he sees no problems with the out-of-state money.
"The nice thing is people are helping me from all over," McAuliffe said. "I've had a lot of long relationships. These folks don't want anything from Virginia. They think I'd make a great governor."
Still, he has already been criticized by one of his Democratic opponents. "Will our party be dominated by big money and those who raise it, or will we be the party of the people?" former delegate Brian Moran asked a roomful of Democrats.
Democratic Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and the Republican nominee, Robert F. McDonnell, have said only that they are focusing their efforts inside the commonwealth.
McAuliffe does not include his out-of-state stops on his official schedule or on news releases. His campaign aides say this is because the events are not open to the public or the media. The Washington Post pieced together his travel schedule through a combination of interviews and newspaper reports, all later confirmed by McAuliffe's campaign.
McAuliffe initially focused his fundraising locally. His first public campaign finance report, which covered the six-month period ending Dec. 31, showed he had raised about $948,000 during the last two months of 2008, almost all of it in state. He said the fili ng was intended "to show Virginia support because they were all saying 'Well, is he really from Virginia?' "
Deeds and Moran have attended fundraisers in the District but never in other states, according to their staffs. Only a small portion of their campaign money has come from outside Virginia. McDonnell raised $1.6 million during the second half of last year. Moran raised $755,000; Deeds, $658,000.
The amount each has raised for the three-month period that ends today will be made public April 15.
McAuliffe said in a recent interview that he did not plan to attend any more fundraisers outside of Virginia before the June 9 primary. But an aide quickly corrected him, saying he would still attend an occasional out-of-state fundraiser.
One such event, confirmed after the interview, was Friday, when McAuliffe attended a fundraiser at the Rhode Island home of major Democratic donors Mark and Susan Weiner. He flew Sunday to his hometown, Syracuse, for an event at an Irish pub attended by the mayor.
McAuliffe has worked in national politics for almost three decades, including as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He raised more than $200 million for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, oversaw $500 million in party fundraising between 2001 and 2005 and chaired Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, which raised about $220 million.
McAuliffe said he needs to raise as much as he can to prepare for a possible general election contest against McDonnell. National Republicans are investing heavily in McDonnell's campaign after recent defeats.
"The Republican Party has said they are going to throw the kitchen sink at this race," McAuliffe said. Democrats "want someone who can match him and, hopefully, beat him."
Virginia has no limits on how much an individual or corporation can donate to a state race.
Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said McAuliffe's money will allow him to spend more on outreach and advertising and will probably not hurt him in the primary.
"All they can do is complain," Rozell said. "The reality is if they could do it, they would."
McAuliffe's money allowed him to start running TV ads in January, believed to be the earliest start date for a statewide candidate in Virginia. He has hired a record 98 staffers, rented a cavernous space in a pricey Tysons Corner building for his campaign headquarters and opened nine other offices across the state.
But raising the money has posed a logistical challenge: to keep up a heavy schedule of appearances in Virginia but leave time to go where the dollars are.
In January, McAuliffe raised $350,000 at a New York fundraiser at the Park Avenue apartment of Hassan Nemazee, a prominent investment banker who was one of Hillary Clinton's finance chairs. Bill Clinton stopped by unannounced.
On March 2, McAuliffe was in Northern Virginia to talk about job creation, small-business support and workforce training. That night, he attended a fundraiser at a Chicago restaurant hosted by J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire whose family founded the Hyatt hotel chain, and Kevin O'Keefe, a Clinton White House lawyer.
On March 4, McAuliffe held an economic roundtable in Roanoke. That night, he was at the home of Jim Pederson, a businessman who chaired the Arizona Democratic Party. "Terry is held in high regard and affection in our party," Pederson said. "It doesn't surprise me that there's an outpouring for him now. It's time for a little payback."
The next day, he attended a Hollywood fundraiser hosted by Haim Saban, a billionaire entertainment magnate who helped create the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and a San Francisco event thrown by prominent real estate developer Walter Shorenstein.
That weekend, McAuliffe attended a fundraising luncheon at the Houston home of Arthur Schechter, a former ambassador to the Bahamas who has raised millions of dollars for Democratic candidates. That same afternoon, his rivals were speaking to more than 100 Democratic activists at the Hampton History Museum. McAuliffe sent his wife, Dorothy.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.