USA: G.O.P. Donors Paying to Play at Convention

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 - Lunch at the Plaza Hotel. Dinner at Le Cirque.
Cocktails at the New York Stock Exchange. That's the least the
Republican Party could do to welcome its top fund-raisers to the
convention in New York this month. Right?

Yes, but there's just one catch. They have to pay for it.



These supporters - some of whom have raised $200,000 or more for President Bush
or the party -- are being charged a "convention fee'' this year of up
to $4,500 per person for themselves and each guest, according to a Web
page run by LogiCom Project Management, the company handling the events
and travel arrangements.



That's just for starters. The fund-raisers will also pay for airfare,
several nights in a hotel and optional events they might choose - like
a fashion show at Barneys or the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The
result is that a couple could easily run up a tab of well over $10,000.



"A lot of us looked at that thing and said, whoa!'' said Bruce Bialosky
of California, who raised $100,000 to become a Pioneer fund-raiser. He
estimates that the convention will cost him and his family $15,000. "A
lot of people just can't afford that.''



Republican officials say the fees have risen this year - they topped
out at $1,750 in 2000 - because of the new McCain-Feingold campaign
finance law, which eliminated the unlimited so-called soft money
contributions that used to make up a large part of the party's finances
and were traditionally used to pay for convention events. Now operating
on a leaner budget, the Republican Party chose to pass the costs on to
those attending the convention rather than spend cash that could be
used to support President Bush in the election.



"We want to use our hard money resources in the smartest way
possible,'' said Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican
National Committee.



The fees might have been considered a contribution if collected by the
national committee, so officials instead hired LogiCom to collect the
money and run the events.



While Democratic fund-raisers got into parties free during their
national convention in Boston, some Republicans - even the most well
off - are experiencing sticker shock. A few said they called campaign
officials to complain. Others are looking into leaving their spouses
behind, sharing hotel rooms or taking other measures to cut costs.
Almost all said they have heard grumbling from their friends in
fund-raising circles.



"The price of playing the game has risen dramatically,'' said Fred
Zeidman, a Texas fund-raiser who has brought in at least $200,000. "I
don't think anybody is happy about writing the check. But it's a cost
of doing business.''



The Bush campaign is famously frugal, sometimes serving hot dogs and
other plain fare at fund-raising events. As Shawn Steel, a California
fund-raiser who has brought in $200,000 together with his wife, joked,
"These are about the stingiest bunch of guys I've ever seen.''



At the same time, Mr. Steel and many other fund-raisers, including Mr.
Bialosky and Mr. Zeidman, said they understood the need for the
charges. "I don't blame them," Mr. Bialosky said. "They didn't have a
choice. They are not trying to stick it to us, there are costs to these
things."



To some, the pricing structure itself may seem unfair because the
biggest fund-raisers, instead of being rewarded for their success, are
expected to fork over even more money to attend the events.



Mr. Bush's Rangers, who each raised at least $200,000 for the campaign,
are being asked to pay $4,500; Pioneers, who raised at least $100,000,
are being asked for $4,000; Mavericks, the under-40 fund-raisers who
gathered at least $50,000, are being asked to pay $3,650. Several other
packages cost less, according to the LogiCom site.



Fund-raisers at all three levels are being invited to a concert at
Lincoln Center featuring the singer Linda Eder, a finance committee
lunch at the Plaza Hotel (complete with breakout sessions afterward),
receptions at Tavern on the Green and the New York Stock Exchange, and
a farewell party at Cipriani's on the last day of the convention.



There are also some special perks.



Rangers, for example, get a lunch at Sotheby's and the opportunity to
stay at the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South, but rooms costing $475
to $700 a night are already sold out, according to the site. What is
left in a block of rooms reserved for donors starts at $850, with
suites beginning at $2,000 - and there is a five-night minimum.



Officials at LogiCom declined to comment on the events or the costs,
referring calls to the Republican National Committee. Ms. Iverson, the
committee spokeswoman, declined to say how much the events cost to
organize in total or the terms of the LogiCom contract and how much the
company made.



Of course, fund-raisers do not have to attend special parties, nor do
they have to stay at fancy hotels. There are more than enough events
that cost little or nothing.



For example, a lunch for J. Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House,
is being held Sept. 1, organized by the law and lobbying firm Akin Gump
Strauss Hauer & Feld and sponsored by companies like Boeing and Dow
Chemical.



But some Republicans say the fun of a convention is mixing with fellow
fund-raisers, many of whom are friends from other states they have been
working with for months, whether it is in the convention hall, in hotel
hospitality suites or at parties given especially for them.



So it was for Mr. Bialosky, who found economical airfares, opted for
cheaper accommodations and chose a cheaper package of events in order
to trim costs so he could attend with his wife and his two teenage
children.



"I really wanted to be a Pioneer or a Ranger; that's what I worked my
butt off to do,'' Mr. Bialosky said. "I don't have an endless pot of
money to commit to political events. But I didn't want to go there and
not participate in the Pioneer and Ranger stuff. That felt horrible.''



--

AMP Section Name:Corporate Influence on the Elections