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Clinton's Big-Money Machine : Fund raising focused on 'fat cats' fuels the Democrat's campaign. Leading the charge is his dynamic duo--both thirtysomething campaign veterans.

March 17, 1992|GERALDINE BAUM and SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

"B ubeleh! How are you?" Rahm Emanuel gushes into a telephone while glaring at a name, phone number and the figure $10,000 written on a yellow pad. "You really have $8,500? In hand? I'll check you off."

In a nearby office, Amy Zisook laughs into her phone receiver and coos: "You can't send another check, Jerry. But I know you have a lot of friends who want to come to our fund-raiser tomorrow night."

It is the day before Super Tuesday, and Emanuel, 32, and Zisook, 30, Bill Clinton's paid treasure hunters, are in the Democratic presidential candidate's Chicago headquarters dialing for dollars.

They are trying to secure a quick $500,000 to underwrite the candidate's efforts in the Illinois and Michigan primaries today; Michigan is expected to be a tough battle, and for the first time, former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas is outspending Clinton on television ads.

For Emanuel and Zisook, both weaned on Chicago's money-flush politics, the trip is a homecoming. Since last fall they've been based in Little Rock, Ark., so on this snow-blown afternoon their view from the 18th-floor headquarters straight down into Chicago City Hall is particularly sweet--when not obscured by weather.

A reporter once described Emanuel, a schmooze-aholic who helped raise about $12 million for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, as having "an Al Capone-esque" fund-raising style; Zisook, a professional money-raiser since age 23, has a lighter touch, but she, too, can be relentless with the phone.

And in the fund-raising business, the telephone is the milk machine to the cash cows.

For now, all 10 lines into Clinton headquarters are flashing and ringing so frenetically that even Emanuel, who has been known to coax, cajole and browbeat a phone receiver, can't get a line out. Instead, he grabs a cellular phone and dials.

To a fund-raiser in the South, he yells, "Bobby, this is your favorite Yankee!"

To a woman with the jitters, he harangues, "Take the goddamn Ritalin!"

And when told of plans for a $100,000 dinner, he wheedles, "We should not be gun-shy. . . . We should go for $300,000. But I want to negotiate the (expletive) meal price down--if I have to come in there with a bunch of lawyers."

A former ballet dancer, Emanuel is again performing: He walks three steps, pirouettes neatly on the ball of a wingtipped foot and paces back. After a few fidgety spins, he finally hangs up, slaps his rib cage and bellows, "This is metabolism fund raising!"

In Clinton's case, it has been lifesaving fund raising.

If it weren't for the money--almost $8 million raised in less than six months--Clinton might never have survived the media cackle, first over Gennifer Flowers, a former nightclub singer who alleged a 12-year affair with him, and then over his alleged manipulation of his draft status.

Other factors helped Clinton endure, but the cash bought him time--to counter the attacks with his own positive paid messages and to keep a staff rolling from primary state to primary state, picking up delegates.

"Clearly, if we had not had the financial edge we had coming out of New Hampshire, we might very well have been in the same boat as (Missouri Rep.) Dick Gephardt was in '88 and (Nebraska Sen. Bob) Kerrey and (Iowa Sen. Tom) Harkin were this year," says Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm. "They ran out of gas. We still had gas in the tank."

The victory in New Hampshire pumped gas into Tsongas' financial efforts as well, but as of last month his campaign was still raising $1 for every $2 the Clinton money machine was sucking in. (Still, although Clinton has raised twice as much as any other Democrat, President Bush, with $14 million in his war chest, easily outstrips them all.)

But as pleased as they seem, Clinton's money people are trying not to ease off. If anything, they are milking faster. There is the Rust Belt today, then New York--both expensive media markets--and then California in June.

Last week Emanuel and Zisook were trying to pump up the so-called "fat cats"--100 wealthy men (and a few women) who get a kick out of putting the squeeze on their friends for the maximum $1,000 donation.

As Emanuel so poetically describes his technique for a heavy pitch, "Surround 'em in love, just love them to death!" Most of these men, members of Clinton's national finance committee, lap it up. Primarily, they maintain a misty idealism about the candidate, yet many are eager to be with a Democratic winner. A few admit to harboring fantasies of having influence in the White House. But mostly they simply enjoy being players and are in it for the fun.

And no matter what the guys who mau-mau the media claim or the politicos who pressure delegates insist, raising political money is the ultimate contact sport.

On the evening of Super Tuesday, and with Illinois and Michigan already looming, Bill Clinton is doing his part in Chicago. He crams five fund-raisers into a single evening. In fact, he barely utters a word that night that isn't being paid for by the audience.

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