For Bush Fund-Raisers, Bucks Never Stopped
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 3, 1999; Page A10
In Boston, a $500,000 lunch turned into an $850,000 lunch. In Washington, the campaign hoped for $1.5 million and ended up with $2.2 million. By the time the George W. Bush money tour got to Detroit a week ago Thursday, and added yet another million dollars to the Texas governor's presidential campaign, Donald L. Evans had done the math.
Bush's best friend and chief fund-raiser, Evans realized that Bush was going to raise more money than any Republican presidential candidate ever had – in little more than three months. "I told the governor on the plane that I thought we just might be able to put a three in front of the number," Evans said yesterday, recalling the moment when he first knew the campaign would hit the $30 million mark.
Interviews with Evans and other key fund-raisers offered a window into how the Bush campaign managed the spectacular feat, ending up with more than $36 million and 75,000 donors by June 30. The campaign drew on Bush's cash-rich home state of Texas for $11 million of the total, nearly doubling the Lone Star State's previous presidential record. It created a special category of "Pioneers" who pledged to raise $100,000 or more – and, according to sources, more than 100 have already met that daunting goal, bringing in more than $10 million.
Starting with the advantage of a financial network established by his father over decades in political life, George W. Bush also capitalized on the buzz around his candidacy as he hit the road for a remarkable series of 20-plus fund-raising events. As the June 30 deadline approached for candidates, the Bush campaign found itself unexpectedly awash in a burst of last-minute cash.
"For the past three weeks, every event went over the top of what was expected," said Peter Terpeluk Jr., a Washington business consultant and top Bush fund-raiser.
The report detailing exactly who gave what won't be filed with the Federal Election Commission until July 15, but already, Bush's fund-raising record is reshaping the political world's view of what is possible in a presidential fund-raising system governed by a strict $1,000-a-person limit.
While underfunded GOP rivals quickly sought to tar Bush as a "$36 million man" who plans to substitute big money for big ideas, political strategists in both parties say his formidable bank account could be a key asset in the early-starting 2000 primary elections.
Just a year ago, when Bush was first mapping out a White House plan, the fund-raising goals were much more modest. Last summer, when Bush and his father were strategizing with an adviser at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, they figured it would take $20 million raised by the end of 1999 to mount a competitive presidential bid.
"The idea was double-double-double: raise $5 million the first quarter, $10 million the second quarter and $20 million by the end of the year," the adviser recalled. "Everyone agreed it was a very obtainable goal."
By March, the newly launched Bush campaign, buoyed by early polls that made him an overwhelming frontrunner for the Republican nomination, was talking of raising $20 million in only three months. This week, after those three months had come and gone, even that once-audacious target had been surpassed. "No one," the Bush adviser said, "dreamed it could happen this way."
Just about every cog in the Bush money machine has a different explanation for its success. To some, the influx of $1,000 checks was a direct result of the strength of the U.S. economy. To others, it was an indication that Bush has successfully created a new generation of Republican donors. Still others pointed to the national infrastructure already in place from the campaigns of Bush's father, and the fund-raising assistance of a vast network of GOP governors who have lent their finance teams to his presidential bid.
All of those involved with the effort said it wouldn't have been possible without Bush's favorite-son status in Texas. "Texas is where we started," Evans said, but even so, "take Texas out of the equation and we still raised $25.1 million. That would have been a record in and of itself."
Wayne L. Berman, a veteran national GOP fund-raiser working for Bush, cited several factors, including "recruiting new people who have expanded the universe of what's possible in $1,000-event fund-raising," and the "incredible, awesome power of the American economy," which has resulted in more checks in larger amounts from donors.
Most agreed that the campaign's organization put it on track to raise the initial record it hoped to set – $20 million. But they said it was the favorable publicity after Bush's first trip to Iowa on June 12 and New Hampshire on June 14 that cemented the record.
"It's been a bubbling cauldron that just bubbled over," said former representative Bill Paxon, now a lobbyist who has helped raise more than $100,000 for Bush from his former western New York district. "They were on track to raise $20 million. Then, in the last 10 days, the thing just spiraled out of control – literally."
"The events clearly were a factor," said James C. Langdon Jr., an old Texas friend of Bush who is now leading his Washington fund-raising. "People don't want to give in total anonymity; they want to be recognized as being part of something."
And even as members of the Republican establishment around the country were flocking to give money to Bush – one source noted that, at a meeting of the Republican National Committee's "Team 100" donors this month, the party's biggest givers spent all their break time working the phones to raise money for Bush – the Bush team said that many of the contributors appeared to be newcomers to political money.
"I got on the phone last night and called a dozen folks I know," Paxon said Thursday, the day after the Bush fund-raising total was announced. "I said, 'Want to help push it over $40 million?' People were sending checks last night, and these are people who are new to it. The moment was too great to pass up."
Campaign officials said that, in addition to the Pioneers, they have recruited 2,500 volunteers who have agreed to raise $10,000 or more – all of them given "solicitor tracking numbers" to enable the campaign to monitor their progress as the checks roll in. "What I hear from all of them is that it's the easiest money they've ever had to raise," Evans said.
Indeed, virtually all of the money has come from individual solicitors and big fund-raising events. Direct mail, a traditional though far more expensive way to raise money, accounted for "well under $5 million" of Bush's total, according to spokesman David Beckwith.
It was Bush's mid-June debut on the national money circuit that really surprised many of his advisers, though. "As of three weeks ago," when Bush first went out on the road, Beckwith said, "we thought we'd be lucky to hit $20 million." Just as Bush was leaving, Beckwith said, the governor called strategist Karl Rove and was told the total could hit $23 million.
From there, the numbers just kept going up. "After that first trip to Iowa and New Hampshire, our [goal] was raised $500,000 to $1 million a day," Beckwith said. The Bush tour stopped in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, the District, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida and culminated in a seven-event, $5 million California foray.
In the end, Evans's $30 million secret was closely held. Several top fund-raisers said they didn't hear the news until an hour before Bush announced it. The calls went out from the three leaders of Bush's fund-raising team – Evans, Rove and finance director Jack Oliver.
Even now, after collecting more money than GOP nominee Robert J. Dole raised in all of 1995 and 1996, the Bush team plans to continue the money tour.
More than 30 fund-raisers are on the schedule for the next six weeks, according to Beckwith. "Next week, we're off to Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Spokane," said Evans. "Then back into Virginia, and New Jersey and Baltimore."
Shelly Kamins, a Potomac developer leading the Maryland fund-raising, is already looking for a record for the July 14 Baltimore event.
"We're expecting more than 500 people – it's a huge goal but one we think can be achieved," he said. For their $1,000 checks, the Bush crowd in the Inner Harbor, he promised, will "get something less than dinner – and something more than a hot dog."
© 1999 The Washington Post Company