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  •   Bush's Dash for Cash

    Texas Gov. George W. Bush, joined by William Bennett, right, during a news conference last week. (AP)
    By Susan B. Glasser
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 7, 1999; Page A1

    Texas Gov. George W. Bush is assembling the most ambitious Republican presidential fund-raising effort ever, hoping to raise $20 million more than the previous record by capitalizing on his father's national money network, his own contribution-rich Texas base and financial aid from his fellow GOP governors.

    The Bush mobilization has featured a procession of more than 400 fund-raisers -- a who's who of the Republican rich and powerful -- flying to Austin to hear his pitch. Former president George Bush is making phone calls for his son and last night headlined the campaign's first fund-raiser. And the Bush team is courting the top money men with a special program -- "the Pioneers" -- for those who pledge to bring in $100,000 within a few months; sources said more than 200 have already signed up.

    Much of the $50 million Bush wants to collect will be raised by the end of this year, in a nine-month dash for cash fueled by his desire to capitalize on his front-runner status and a front-loaded 2000 primary calendar in which the Republican nomination will be decided by next March. The Texan's strategy is also premised on the prospect of a Democratic rival, Vice President Gore, who has embarked on his own plan to break the fund-raising record.

    With Bush staying put at the governor's mansion until June and the close of the state legislative session, the money "mountain has come to Mohammed," said Floyd Kvamme, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who will escort as many as 10 other high-tech magnates to Texas next week.

    This financial Rose Garden strategy produced what sources said was a GOP field-leading $7 million in contributions by last week's close of the first quarter, money raised in three weeks without a single fund-raising gala or out-of-town trip. Bush's closest competitor, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), lagged several million dollars behind.

    Bush's Republican rivals are dubious about his ability to raise more than any presidential candidate has before -- Robert J. Dole set the Republican record in 1996 of $31.2 million. They argue that the GOP donor base may not be large enough in a multi-candidate race and note that he hasn't won the allegiance of all the party's big givers, especially in money-rich New York.

    But even his opponents concede they can't compete with Bush for the key fund-raisers. "He's done a superb job in locking up the party establishment," said Ari Fleischer, spokesman for Elizabeth Dole.

    "George Jr. may have some problems in his campaign," said Ted Welch, the finance chairman for former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander. "I wouldn't anticipate raising money will be one of them."

    Officially, Bush is merely "exploring" his presidential prospects. But his campaign has not waited to put together a fund-raising plan with record-shattering goals. He is hoping for $10 million out of Texas alone and more than $4 million in Florida, governed by Bush brother Jeb. All of it must be raised in increments of no more than $1,000 -- by law, the maximum currency of the presidential fund-raising realm.

    The campaign, according to interviews with more than 30 members of Bush's money team, will be financially dependent on the GOP establishment -- many of the same corporate CEOs, real estate developers, investment bankers and Washington stalwarts who backed Bush's father and are now embracing his son's "compassionate conservatism."

    But in the aggressive drive to recruit the select few who can round up 100 of their friends and colleagues to write $1,000 checks, high-tech "new economy" leaders are also being courted. So is a new generation of well-heeled lawyers and bankers who have been beneficiaries of a booming stock market. Several "Pioneers" interviewed said their enthusiasm for Bush was simple and not necessarily ideological: They want to win.

    "He's a very easy product to sell," said investor Bradford Freeman, a close Bush friend who is leading the California money charge.

    In Austin two weeks ago, more than 500 people showed up at the organizing session for the Texas finance committee. In Michigan, Gov. John Engler is personally dialing for dollars. And in Washington, a room at the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld overflowed with more than 100 people ready to raise at least $25,000. Bush's brother Marvin and sister Dorothy were on hand to thank the crowd.

    Bush's advisers hope to win the "financial primary" of the 2000 contest before a single vote has been cast. "We're talking about the goal of raising $32 million by the end of the year," said Donald L. Evans, the Midland, Tex., oil company CEO, Bush best friend and self-described "money man" who is the campaign's finance chairman. "It's a huge task at $1,000 per person limits."

    In an interview poolside at a Holiday Inn in Fort Myers, on his way to the organizational meeting of the Florida finance committee, Evans last week discussed in detail the reason for this early-starting fund-raising: the campaign's effort to bank enough to opt out of the presidential public funding system.

    Under that system, 2000 candidates will be eligible for up to about $15 million in federal funds but subject to an overall spending limit of about $45 million during the primary season that includes strict, state-by-state spending limits as well.

    "If you go nonmatching, you're assuming you can raise at least $50 million," Evans said. "That's a huge jump over what anyone has done before." But Evans said the campaign found "appeal" in the idea because "the primary season is shortened; it's a few weeks. You would like to be able to go in without constraints."

    In particular, that's because Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes, the billionaire publisher who spent $37 million out of his own pocket four years ago against Dole, is running again. Bush also doesn't want to find himself out of money after the primaries and unable to compete effectively until receiving federal funding for the general election months later -- Dole's big problem against President Clinton.

    The fund-raising structure Bush's advisers are assembling is a pyramid -- "the air gets thinner as you go up," is how Sheldon Kamins, a Potomac developer who will help lead the Maryland fund-raising, put it.

    At the top are a few fund-raisers with national networks of their own -- Bush money veterans such as Washington business consultants Wayne L. Berman and Peter Terpeluk Jr. and Michigan businessman Heinz C. Prechter. Owner of a car-customizing company, Prechter raised more than $1 million in 1988 for Bush senior, who named him chairman of the president's Export Council and took him on a trade mission to Japan that landed Prechter's firm a lucrative deal.

    Other big contributors to Bush's father who have enlisted include Howard Leach, a Northern California agribusiness investor who during a car ride to a 1992 fund-raiser urged the then-president to free up billions of gallons in federal water for corporate farms -- a policy change that Bush ordered nine days later. Leach, who met with the governor in Austin this January, said last week, "I've been involved continuously."

    In the battle for what one Bush veteran called "the name brand people" in GOP fund-raising, the Texan hasn't won every round. Several of the biggest Rolodexes in New York, for example, are holding back as Bush and his top advisers negotiate with Gov. George E. Pataki, who has been floating his own presidential hopes of late. One Bush ally described the talks as "a very delicate minuet," putting major New York fund-raising on hold until the summer.

    But overall Bush has wooed and won many of those he's sought. So far, the Texan has named 32 state finance chairs, a list that includes billionaire Ray L. Hunt of the oil company Hunts in Texas and real estate developer Alfred Hoffman Jr. in Florida. The D.C. co-chairs are James C. Langdon Jr., an Akin Gump senior partner who is a Democrat and old Bush friend from Midland, and Joseph B. Gildenhorn, the Bush administration ambassador to Switzerland criticized at the time of his appointment for a resume short on diplomatic experience and long on campaign contributions.

    While many are familiar faces from the fund-raising days of Bush Sr., the operation is sweeping enough to cover many other money networks. "It far transcends the Washington establishment," said one former senior White House adviser to Bush. "It's certainly one part Bush family, one part Republican diehards and it's one big part Texas."

    Evans is the CEO of this vast array of CEOs, aided by a fund-raising staff of about 10. The chairman of Tom Brown Inc., a Midland oil-exploration company, Evans befriended Bush when they were both young men looking to make their fortunes in the Texas oil market of the 1970s. His wife, Susie, grew up in Midland with Bush.

    When Bush ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 1978, Evans was his campaign chairman. Evans worked for -- and gave to -- Bush's two winning gubernatorial campaigns as well as his father's two presidential efforts. His friend rewarded Evans with appointment to the University of Texas's board of regents; today, Evans is the chairman and sits on the board with several big contributors to the governor.

    Back in that first losing race, Evans told The Post in 1989, his friend was more reluctant to tap the family network. "His father might have been able to help," Evans said, "but George wouldn't allow it."

    This time, with a bigger prize at stake, the Bush family will be a key part of the fund-raising operation. In addition to the former president's appearance at the $200,000 kickoff fund-raiser in Arizona, Bush siblings, uncles and cousins are also involved.

    "It's a politician's dream to have this far-flung family," said Fred Bush (no relation), who has put together more than 300 fund-raisers for Bushes including two D.C. events last year that took in $1.2 million for Bush's reelection as governor.

    The 13 governors who have endorsed Bush are also key to the money chase. Michigan's Engler, for example, "has launched full bore into a major fund-raising effort on behalf of Bush," said his spokesman. "He is doing a significant number of phone calls."

    In Massachusetts, Gov. Paul Cellucci has put his political team on the Bush assignment, and they rounded up 16 key Bay State fund-raising types to send to Texas 10 days ago, including former governor Bill Weld. The 1 1/2-hour lunch at Shoreline Grill in Austin featured a pep talk from Bush. "I expect 95 percent of the key Massachusetts Republican fund-raisers will be nailed down for Bush," said Cellucci adviser Rob Gray. "Our organization is transferable."

    Bush's allies have turned the airport in Austin into a hub for prospective fund-raisers. Almost every day, delegations like those from Massachusetts arrive. "There's a two-hour lunch and they come out charged. Then they make a commitment," said one fund-raiser who has escorted several hot prospects to Texas.

    The "Pioneer" program is the most audacious yet tried by a presidential campaign -- Gore's effort, for example, seeks to sign up $50,000 fund-raisers. But while the number of recruits so far is impressive, Evans wants to see the checks in the bank first. "They're not Pioneers until they do their pioneering," he said.

    Christopher Burnham is one of those would-be Pioneers. The former Connecticut state treasurer and an unsuccessful Senate candidate against Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D), Burnham now runs a Wall Street investment firm. "I am absolutely enthused about this," he said after a visit to Texas last month.

    "I have called my Christmas card list, my professional list, my own political lists from fund-raising over five campaigns," Burnham said. "When I get through with that, I'll turn to the phone book."

    Staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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