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  •   Like Father, Like Sons: Bush Brothers Fire Up GOP Fund-Raising

    Gov. George W. Bush (R-Tex.)
    Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) is a favorite son among many Republicans, both for this fall and 2000. (AP)
    By Ruth Marcus and Terry M. Neal
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Thursday, June 18, 1998; Page A02

    Even before the invitations were printed, the people planning the fund-raiser for Texas Gov. George W. Bush here tonight had to switch to Plan B.

    The idea had been for an intimate dinner at the home of Joseph Gildenhorn, who served as ambassador to Switzerland during the Bush administration. But the Gildenhorns could accommodate only 80 – and the demand from those who wanted to write checks for $5,000 a person was threatening to overwhelm the available space.

    "I saw very quickly that I was going to have some very angry folks on my hands," said fund-raiser Fred Bush, who is no relation but has put on about 300 events for Bush family members. "I have never had to move an event of this price tag because of overwhelming interest."

    George W. Bush and his younger brother, Jeb – who is making his second run at the Florida governorship – have hit the fund-raising circuit in a big way this year, revving up the old family money machine and updating it for the '90s. With the invaluable asset of the outsized political Rolodex passed on from their father, their own networks in two key states, and the possible presidential prospects of George W. Bush, the Bush brothers – who are both favored to win in November – represent a formidable fund-raising duo.

    "Apples don't fall far from the tree," said Republican National Committee finance chairman Mel Sembler, who plans to attend tonight's event. "Their father before them had wonderful fund-raising capabilities across the entire United States, his sons have picked up that capability, and people are happy to help them in their political endeavors."

    When Jeb Bush came to town for a $500-a-head cocktail reception here last year, some 350 people turned out for an event that was part fund-raiser, part Bush administration alumni reunion at the home of Bush administration Federal Maritime Commissioner Rob Quartel. The George W. Bush event will be even bigger, taking in more than $1 million. As Bush White House political director Ron Kaufman artfully phrased it in a letter to potential donors, "a successful visit will send an important signal about the strength of the Bush network."

    As of yesterday afternoon, 127 donors had paid $5,000 apiece to dine on creamy corn chowder and medallions of beef with Bush at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown tonight, and Fred Bush was anticipating at least a handful more. That is in addition to the 538 paid guests – and the possibility of a few hundred more last-minute donors – expected at this evening's $500-a-person cocktail reception at the Willard Hotel.

    Asked how this event stacks up against other gubernatorial fund-raising, Wayne Berman, a Bush administration alumnus, dinner host and leading GOP fund-raiser, said, "It will be the biggest by a factor of multiplication, not addition."

    The take tonight will add to the nearly $15 million Bush has already amassed for his reelection, and will be his biggest out-of-state event yet. He raised more than $800,000 in a swing through California in April, adding to half a million raised in New York last November.

    His Democratic opponent, Garry Mauro, has taken swipes at Bush's out-of-state forays, saying they suggest he is concentrating more on national politics than the Texas race, but Mauro has his own fund-raiser here later this month featuring President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, their second event for Mauro.

    Bush is also a leading draw for the RNC and the Republican Governors Association, and has raised money not only for his brother's gubernatorial campaign, but for state parties and such fellow Republicans as California gubernatorial candidate Dan Lungren, Ohio gubernatorial candidate Robert Taft and Arizona Sen. John McCain. Today, he is stopping off at a fund-raiser for North Carolina Sen. Lauch Faircloth on his way up to Washington.

    Jeb Bush has demonstrated considerable fund-raising strength of his own. In Florida, where – unlike Texas – state law limits contributions to $500, Bush has collected an impressive $7 million, out-raising his likely Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, 3 to 1. (MacKay eventually will be able to close some of the gap with public funds, which Bush has declined.) Bush has raised about $1.2 million from outside Florida, compared to MacKay's $125,000.

    Texas has been a particularly fertile source of funds. The money has flowed both to Jeb Bush and the Florida Republican Party, which has financed 60-second, prime-time television commercials in some of the state's largest metropolitan areas that show Bush playing on the beach with his family and dog. Florida campaign records show that Jeb Bush has raised $392,000 from Texas since January 1996 and the state party another $525,000.

    George W. Bush earlier this year escorted his brother on a fund-raising swing through Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Midland that included some events attended by George and Barbara Bush. Hushang Ansary, a former Iranian ambassador here and now a U.S. citizen and oil field equipment company owner, contributed generously after the Houston event. Ansary gave $100,000, the Florida party's biggest contribution in at least two years, and his company donated another $50,000.

    "I've been a long-term supporter of President Bush," Ansary said. "I am a great believer in Republican causes."

    Kaufman, the Bush White House veteran and an organizer of tonight's event, attributed the Bush brothers' fund-raising success to the unique combination of the network passed on from their father and the abilities of the sons.

    "There's no Republican president that has raised more money for the party over the years than George Bush has. It's virtually impossible to go to any state, any city in this country and talk to a Republican activist who helps raise money who doesn't know George Bush or hasn't spoken with him or gotten a letter from him and doesn't feel a personal relationship with the Bushes," Kaufman said.

    Tonight's guests will be a who's who of Bush administration alumni who see the event as a means of repaying a debt to the former president, people with Texas ties, and those intrigued by the governor's presidential possibilities.

    "He's the hot tamale right now," said one longtime Republican fund-raiser. "This event is like 'see and be seen.' "

    Staff writer Dan Balz and staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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