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Regional & National

Old political alliances break up in 2008 presidential fund-raising game

April 21st, 2007 9:48 pm by Associated Press



WASHINGTON - Not long ago, Washington lobbyist Wayne Berman and California investor Tom Tellefsen shared the same goal: Raise as much money as possible for George W. Bush. Now they are in opposite presidential camps; Berman with John McCain and Tellefsen with Mitt Romney.


Not long ago, Washington lawyer Gregory Craig and supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle were Bill Clinton loyalists. Craig is now raising money for Barack Obama while Burkle gathers cash for Hillary Rodham Clinton.


They are the bundlers, the fund-raisers, the well-connected linchpins of a politician's financial operation. Collectively, they and scores of others helped raise $130 million in presidential primary money last quarter by spinning through their Rolodexes and scrolling through their computerized contact lists.


But with Republican and Democratic presidential fields of multiple candidates, some past alliances have split. Hillary Clinton has lost some old Clinton confederates to Obama. And McCain is building a fund-raising team around the very same Bush fund- raisers who worked against him in the 2000 presidential campaign.


"The circumstances this year are uncommon," said Don Fowler, the Democratic National Committee chairman during the Clinton presidency. "When the political establishment in either party has no horse, all of the establishees sort of spread around."


In the Republican pack, McCain lists about 60 former "Rangers" or "Pioneers," George W. Bush's elite fund-raisers, who are playing an active role in his campaign. Romney and Rudy Giuliani each have about 30 or more of the former Bush bundlers on their teams.


Even more are donating. In the first quarter, Romney raised $203,425 from 94 former Bush bundlers; Giuliani raised $129,694 from 54 of them and McCain collected $188,650 from 86, according to an Associated Press analysis of finance reports.


Still, of the three, McCain fared worst in overall fund raising in the first quarter. He swiftly overhauled his financial operation, placing lobbyist and former Texas Rep. Tom Loeffler, an old Bush Ranger, in charge.


Loeffler had a new plan within 24 hours and spelled it out to McCain and senior members of the finance team earlier this month.


The terms were simple: Send McCain to more fund-raising events and set dollar targets for the bundlers. The "McCain 100" team would be for those who raise $100,000; "McCain 200" for those who raise $200,000.


"Absence of goals is not a way you successfully conduct any enterprise," said Berman, the campaign's vice chairman. Seven years ago, Berman was trying to sink McCain's campaign. He was a Bush Ranger, rallying with other insiders behind the establishment candidate. But Berman knew McCain; he had been host at a fundraiser for him in 1986 when McCain first ran for the Senate. Now, he says: "I believe McCain has the clearest view of the radical Islamic terrorist threat and the most realistic plan to confront the threat." The Romney and Giuliani campaigns are also looking to fine tune. Though better positioned with more money in the bank than McCain, both lag McCain in numbers of individual contributors. "Going into the second quarter that will continue to be a priority, not only how do we raise a lot of money but how do we grow the donor base," said Spencer Zwick, Romney's finance director. One potential starting point is with the Rangers and Pioneers who have never warmed to McCain and those who have yet to take sides. Some have stayed on the sidelines because they hold an ambassadorship or other political appointment. Others are old Texas allies of Bush, less motivated to raise money for candidates they don't know. But there are still a few hundred with address books and contacts that could attract donors and money. "It's that last group that is gettable," Berman said. In the Democratic field there is even more potential for strain. Clinton's bundlers are longtime backers who raised money for her two Senate races and her husband's presidential campaigns. Obama, meanwhile, cultivated new donors while peeling away several Bill Clinton supporters and backers of John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid. Among his 122 first-quarter bundlers, Obama picked up Lou Susman, a Chicago investment banker who served as Kerry's national fundraising chairman. He also nabbed Alan Solomont, a longtime Democratic fundraiser who led a team that brought in $35 million for Kerry. Solomont was also a dedicated fundraiser for Bill Clinton, and was appointed by the former president in 1997 to serve as finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee. Solomont is just one of several former Clinton loyalists who've signed on with Obama this time. Others include Reed Hundt, Clinton's first chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and Gregory Craig, a classmate of both Clintons at Yale Law School who coordinated Bill Clinton's impeachment defense in 1998. "I believe there are several other Democratic candidates who would be terrific presidents, but I think Barack Obama is the right candidate for the time," Craig said. Clinton aides contend that they're not surprised Obama has attracted activists once tied to the former president, arguing that any Democrat who was active in national politics during the 1990s had some connection to her husband's administration. But Hillary Clinton has also endured some high-profile defections, including Hollywood mogul David Geffen, who announced his shift to Obama in a February New York Times interview that was highly critical of both Clintons. Hillary Clinton raised her record-breaking first quarter total of $26 million with support from 84 bundlers, many of whom were courted heavily by other campaigns. They include Hollywood titans like producer Steven Bing and Haim Saban, creator of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; businessmen Steve Rattner and Robert Zimmerman; and hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Tom Steyer. Nearly all of them have been connected to both Clintons for years. But Clinton was less successful than Obama in courting new, younger high donors just starting to be active in politics - an oversight her fundraising team vows to correct this time. She was also less successful than Obama in courting a group of well-connected donors who had pledged their support to former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner. Almost all of his national fundraising leaders decamped to Obama after Warner withdrew from the race. Don Beyer, a businessman and the former lieutenant governor of Virginia under Warner, said he was drawn to Obama as someone who could repair years of political polarization. "Even Bill Clinton, whom I very much admired as president, didn't get 50 percent of the vote either time he ran," Beyer said. "And the whole Monica Lewinsky thing - it was a divisive period in political life. I'm hungry for a president who will bring this country together."

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