Early yesterday morning Walter F. Mondale arrived without entourage at the Four Seasons Hotel, a dozen blocks west of the White House. In an elegant basement foyer, the former Democratic presidential nominee met with a select group of money men who raised funds that fueled his campaign. He thanked them for their hard work and loyalty and shared election-result tidbits, joking about how he had fared in their home territories.
At 10 a.m., Nathan Landow, a Bethesda developer who raised more than $2 million for Mondale, escorted him up to the lobby.
"We never let you down," said Landow.
"I know you didn't," said Mondale.
It was a grace note to the end of an era. The 20 financiers who gathered at the Four Seasons round table expressed their greatest admiration for Mondale's class, but they had come to Washington for another purpose, to form what might be called the Money Caucus.
They had come to talk about 1988 and how they could have more policy influence in that campaign, how they might use their fund-raising skills to move the party toward their business-oriented, centrist viewpoints.
One of the fund-raisers, E. William Crotty of Daytona Beach, Fla., said he wanted to talk about a plan whereby each member would raise a quarter-million dollars over the next two years, then possibly direct the funds, totaling $6 million to $10 million, toward a selected presidential candidate.
Crotty said after the meeting that fund-raising was discussed, but not the specific numbers he mentioned in an earlier interview.
Landow said that there are no specific fund-raising goals and that Crotty confused a minimum $250,000 fund-raising goal each of the men had during the Mondale campaign with the goals of the newly formed group.
"We don't have any candidates and we don't have focus on the party yet," Landow said. "This quarter of a million, I think, if you look around the table, everybody has the capacity to do that -- some a lot more."
Thomas Rosenberg, a Chicago developer who raised an estimated $2 million for Mondale, said the coalition of fund-raisers has been formed to push the party from the ideological left to the center.
"To be successful in 1986 and 1988, the Democratic Party has to reach the moderate-centrist voters and has to offer candidates and positions that will attract that kind of voter," he said.
Asked how the group would achieve its goals, Rosenberg was more elliptical. "If you assume the people in the room are the major fund-raisers in the Democratic presidential race and that they have a desire to see a more moderate, centrist position by the candidates, we'll see what happens from there," he said.
Rosenberg was adamant in his contention that "we are not trying to form our own special-interest group to influence policies." Instead, he argued, "we don't have to do anything. We have a certain viewpoint that is, say, moderate or centrist. And we are major fund-raisers."
Buddy Temple, a member of the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil industry in Texas, said: "Fund-raisers get put over in a fund-raising niche. If that person tries to get involved in politics or the issues of the campaign [he is told,] 'That's not your role, get the hell out of there.' Well, there is some frustration about that."
Temple saw not only Mondale but Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, House and state legislature lose in Texas. "Just to the extent we can," he said, "we are going to try to get together and try to help people who we think are electable and further the growth of the Democratic Party."
He said the group, which is to meet again Jan. 15 and may gather at regular intervals, will try to line up support for Democratic candidates running for all offices.
One person noticeably absent from yesterday's meeting was Robert Rubin, a member of the management committee of the investment banking firm Goldman, Sachs & Co., who helped coordinate the raising of more than $3 million for Mondale.
"I don't know what I am going to do," Rubin said when asked why he had declined an invitation from Landow. "The [Democratic] party presents a lot of difficult questions for someone like myself."
He said that if the "party is going to become more centrist," he would be interested in reviving his active support, but "if it's going to be ideological for all these different groups, then that's another matter."
Terry McAuliffe, a financial consultant to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, welcomed formation of the fund-raisers group, noting that it will provide an ideal opportunity to make pitches for cash from a large group.
"This group is going to have tremendous influence," he said. "No group can take over the party," but "if money does anything, it allows your voice to be heard."
The genesis of the money caucus came on election night, Nov. 6, as the Democrats' effort to capture the White House in 1984 was going down the tubes.
Mondale had invited his key fund raisers to Minnesota to spend the campaign's final hours with him, and early that evening they gathered for dinner at L'Etoile on the lower level of the St. Paul Hotel. The restaurant, open only to the banquet guests, featured forest green decor, off-white linen, silver service and, for this occasion, a bank of television sets tuned to the three major networks' early reports of the impending Reagan landslide. As they drank champagne and ate boneless lamb loin wrapped in spinach, Landow and the others moved from table to table.
"There was no doubt about the outcome of the presidential race," Crotty recalled. "So we were all talking about where we go from here, what happened to the Democratic Party, why are we missing the boat, that kind of thing. In our years together, we had all developed a camaraderie, a fondness for one another. We told ourselves that whether Mondale won the numbers in the booth, we raised more money than had ever been raised by a Democratic contender for president.
"Many suggested, including Nate [Landow], that maybe we ought to get together again soon," he said. "I endorsed the idea quickly, and everybody else said, yeah, we ought to do that, and maybe expand the idea a bit, get other Democrats who want to move . . . . We are all people who are extremely successful, quite wealthy each in our own right, and we all have strong ideas about things, so how it will wash out, only time can tell."