Even at 7:30 a.m. on a summer Saturday, the media moguls and Internet tycoons gathered at billionaire deal-maker Herbert A. Allen's annual retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho, listened attentively to Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Politics is not typically on the agenda at this summer camp for CEOs, but Allen invoked "personal privilege" to give his old friend Bradley a chance to pitch his child welfare policy to the GOP-leaning crowd.
No money changed hands, and yet it was as important as any fund-raiser for Bradley, an opportunity to connect with leaders of the new economy--from investment guru Warren Buffett to News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to Intel Corp. CEO Andrew Grove--who have written $1,000 checks in a surprising show of support for his upstart liberal candidacy against Vice President Gore.
In his 1996 memoir, Bradley laid out what amounted to a game plan for maximizing fund-raising: "personalizing your candidacy to rich people." And this year, as he runs for president, Bradley has followed that strategy faithfully, even as his political message highlights issues such as reducing child poverty and insuring the uninsured.
His success with Allen's Sun Valley set is a striking example of how Bradley has methodically created a network of friendships with the rich, famous and often politically uninvolved--a network that helped him outraise the sitting vice president in the last three months.
Famously ambivalent about his fund-raising ability, Bradley has preached the need for campaign finance reform at virtually all of the 100-plus fund-raising events he has held this year. Yet he has excelled at the game he has so publicly abhorred, befriending CEOs and Wall Street financiers in one-on-one meetings and cultivating celebrity admirers from sports (former Knicks teammates, new L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson), Hollywood (Spike Lee, Christopher Reeve) and fashion (designer Tommy Hilfiger).
Already, one-third of the 80 "new establishment" types Vanity Fair cited as attending Allen's Sun Valley retreat have written checks to Bradley, including Hollywood superagents Michael Ovitz and Jeff Berg, network heads such as USA's Barry Diller and NBC's Robert Wright, Silicon Valley types including Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Scott McNealy and even Republican stalwarts such as Murdoch.
"He was exceptionally well-received," said Allen, a friend since Bradley's New York Knicks stardom in the 1970s who has found many ways to boost his candidacy this year, from flying Bradley around on his investment firm's corporate jet to suggesting the Nov. 14 fund-raising extravaganza at Madison Square Garden that will feature Bradley and a roster of basketball's all-time greats.
Once expected to be financially overwhelmed by Gore, Bradley has collected nearly $19 million for his campaign and has more money in the bank than Gore to spend on next year's primaries. He has raised more than Gore in the three key Democratic money states of California, New York and Illinois, and--like Gore--has taken in about 80 percent of his total funds from wealthy $1,000 donors.
And while Bradley has tried to outflank Gore on the left this year when it comes to social issues, interviews with his top fund-raisers suggest that many of his biggest supporters are economic conservatives more attracted by Bradley's sports stardom and reputation for personal integrity than his campaign platform. Bradley is talking left while--to a certain extent--banking right.
To many donors, the Bradley appeal lies precisely in his political-outsider status. "Even people well to the right of Bradley seem to think he's a clean alternative," said Allen. "It's not Clinton fatigue. It's Clinton revulsion."
While Gore and Republican front-runner George W. Bush have had the luxury of relying on the institutionalized fund-raising prowess of their parties, Bradley has turned to a much more eclectic personal group of friends to raise money. Most of the business leaders on his 25-member finance "advisory board" have never been involved in a presidential race before; some, like Princeton classmate and fellow basketball player Donald Roth, are Republicans.
Bradley's fund-raisers say he has an uncanny ability to make friends with future stars. "It's like choosing IPOs," said Betty Sapoch, the Princeton grandmother with the steel-trap memory for every captain of industry, sports star and New Jersey developer in Bradley's network. "He knows what horse to bet on."
Sapoch said Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, for example, has been in Bradley's orbit since he was a prep school kid at Lawrenceville, admiring Princeton basketball star Bradley. The Lakers' Jackson has always helped out Bradley's fund-raising, Sapoch said, "it's just that now he's at the pinnacle of his career."
Downstairs in the crowded warren that is Bradley's West Orange, N.J., headquarters, Bradley's national director Richard Wright has his own similar set of stories.
A teammate at Princeton, Wright held the first fund-raiser for Bradley in his 1978 Senate race. The co-host for the event--which raised just $1,300--was Lawrence W. Lucchino, then a young lawyer at Williams & Connolly in Washington. Today, Lucchino is president of the San Diego Padres and with team owner John J. Moores Jr. has pledged to raise more than $1 million from the Republican-tilting area for Bradley's campaign.
"We're not really raising money on issues," Wright said. "We're raising money on leadership."
But Bradley has also made his own luck, taking pains to personally woo many of the corporateCEOs who are now avidly raising funds for him and serving on his advisory board.
Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz, for example, said Bradley cold-called him several years ago and asked to set up a meeting in Seattle. "He said he just wanted to meet me," Schultz recalled. "He was very interested in what Starbucks had done in terms of health care and other benefits for part-time workers."
After two hours, Schultz was a Bradley recruit. This year, he is raising political money for the first time. "I've been a lifelong Democrat," Schultz said, "but I've never put myself out front like this before."
The same is true for Minneapolis businessman Irving Weiser, chairman and CEO of the investment firm Dain Rauscher. Several years ago, after Bradley had left the Senate and was making his living on the speaking circuit, Weiser's firm paid to fly Bradley to a meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif. Weiser, an old Knicks fan, said Bradley "wowed" the group of mostly Republican CEOs and venture capitalists.
On Election Day last year, Bradley flew to Minnesota to solicit Weiser's fund-raising assistance in the presidential campaign. Weiser agreed, and he and his wife have put together two events totaling $300,000 for Bradley--their first political fund-raisers.
From a standing start last December, Bradley's advisers planned to collect $25 million this year, realizing they would have to do so by creating something outside the traditional Democratic money network. They set a hectic pace of fund-raisers, including 22 events in September alone, and focused on California, New York and New Jersey, which now account for about 50 percent of his total.
Big givers were most important to Bradley at the beginning, according to a Washington Post analysis; $1,000 checks represented 88 percent of his total itemized contributions in the first quarter but fell to 72 percent by the third quarter.
Louis B. Susman, a managing director for Salomon Brothers Inc. who has helped Wright lead the fund-raising, said Bradley and Gore "have a different constituency, and I knew we could raise the money for Bradley to be competitive. One thing I didn't expect was the Gore people, the traditional Democrats, would be tired of giving. I underestimated their lack of passion."
Another longtime friend of Bradley, Susman estimated that more than 20 percent of Bradley's contributions have come from Republicans.
"I'm finding in the fund-raising that he's appealing to friends of mine who are Republicans or people who have not been involved in politics for a long, long time," said New York lawyer Bonnie Reiss, who hosted a $100,000 fund-raiser at her house in the Hamptons and was a top organizer for the $2.2 million event he held in Manhattan this spring, an event the campaign had only budgeted for $1 million.
"He's economically thoughtful and conservative and frugal," said Princeton classmate John D. Diekman, who runs Bay City Capital and with his wife, Susan, has been a top Silicon Valley fund-raiser for Bradley. "That really appeals to Republicans."
The Bradley team takes pains to portray its fund-raising operation as a triumph of outsiders becoming re-engaged in the political process.
"Most of the money is coming from outside the system," said Sapoch, even as the Passaic County Democratic chairman waited in her office for invitations to the Garden to pass out. "It's a broad base. It isn't just 10 guys saying, 'I'm in for a million dollars.' "
But realities are such that Bradley's fund-raising operation, like those of other successful presidential money contestants, relies heavily on the proselytizing of a relatively few wealthy individuals.
On Wall Street, for example, Bradley has long cultivated ties to the leading brokerage houses, leveraging the entree of his Senate Finance Committee seat. He worked for J.P. Morgan & Co. as a strategic adviser after leaving the Senate, and all the major firms have held internal fund-raisers for him this year.
"This is the easiest fund-raising I've ever done," said Joseph H. Flom, a name partner in one of Wall Street's most prominent law firms and one of the few experienced collectors of political money in the Bradley inner circle.
A new recruit among the financial crowd is Goldman Sachs President John Thornton, who met Bradley a year ago in London. "I haven't raised a dime for a politician my whole life," Thornton said, "but I told Bradley, 'I'll be effective for you because I know how to raise money.' "
In July, Thornton took the Bradley money machine across the Atlantic, rounding up American friends living in London to raise "north of $200,000" for the campaign. He seems hooked on this new sport. "Since then," Thornton said, "I dedicate part of my days to calling. It's just retail fund-raising."
Database editor Sarah Cohen and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
Bradley's Money Team
KEY "ADVISORY BOARD" MEMBERS
John H. Bryan
CEO, Sara Lee Corp.
Joseph H. Flom
Senior partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Thomas G. Labrecque
Chairman, Chase Manhattan
Lawrence W. Lucchino
President, San Diego Padres
Owner, Washington Wizards
CEO, Barnes & Noble
CEO, Starbucks Inc.
TOP BRADLEY FUND-RAISING STATES*
Total raised: $18.9 million
Cash on hand: $10.7 million
Total contributions from $1,000 donors: 81%
SOURCE: Federal Election Commission
CAPTION: A Nov. 14 Madison Square Garden fund-raiser will feature basketball greats.