Into the Rolodex for a Bundle
Business Networks Built Over Decades Fuel Political Donations
Monday, September 15, 2008; Page D01
P. Wesley Foster, the real estate mogul who founded Chantilly-based Long & Foster, is hitting up acquaintances from a lifetime of business deals to help raise money for Sen. John McCain. When he runs out of names, he gets suggestions from the McCain campaign.
Don Beyer, the Falls Church Volvo dealer and a former lieutenant governor of Virginia, is mining his computerized database of 3,000 Democrats to raise cash for Barack Obama. He sends e-mails in batches of 600 and waits for the responses to roll in.
Tech guru Julius Genachowski of District-based Rock Creek Ventures drew on his experience at Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp to persuade Obama to develop an interactive Web site that reaches millions of small donors.
And McLean jewelry designer and businesswoman Michelle Olson tapped 400 jewelry customers, her Christmas card list -- even fellow Girl Scout and soccer moms -- to bundle $1 million for McCain.
Obama and McCain have assembled an army of these fundraisers, known as bundlers, who draw on basic business tactics such as networking and teambuilding to get the last buck for their candidate. Bundlers in the same camp even compete against one another to see who can raise the most cash -- and get the most credit.
Foster, chairman of the third-largest real estate firm in the country, said he held a luncheon at his home last summer that raised more than $100,000 for McCain.
"I hung in from the beginning. The most I have raised is on the telephone, calling people that I knew and other people," Foster said. "I think I know a lot of people." When he ran out of his own names, the McCain campaign gave him a list of "builders, Realtors, people in the trade here in the Washington area that I know a little bit. It expanded my base of names somewhat."
Some fundraisers said the key is to recruit a team of people to help. The Washington business community is full of networkers on both sides of the political spectrum who can tap into those resources, some of whom are fairly sophisticated at keeping track of who can give.
"So much of fundraising is about data management," said Beyer, the auto dealer who has raised $500,000 for Obama. "Four years ago, I sat most of the year with a telephone glued to my head, dialing phone number after phone number, just leaving messages, hoping somebody will call back. Now, I try to write the most persuasive e-mail that I can, send it personalized to my small list of 500 or 600 e-mail addresses, and then spend the next week just dealing with the responses."
Olson was just as meticulous. As part of her outreach, she compiled information packets containing an explanation of why she supported McCain, a contribution form and a list of people who might be tapped for money. Her packet included sample letters to send to friends and sample e-mails. She received 30 commitments, which she cemented with follow-up phone calls and e-mails.
Olson, who is the daughter of Fred Malek, McCain's national finance vice chairman, hosted a kickoff reception at the home of her parents that was designed to be part inspiration for the team and part fundraiser. She recruited Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) to phone the guests to help juice things up.
"I knew when I decided to do this that I didn't have enough rich friends I could call up and ask for money. I knew the only way to reach the goal I set for this was to create a team," Olson said. "So I sent out 400 packets to basically everyone I knew. I got a lot of women. I got a lot of girl power."