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GOP CONVENTION '96

State GOP Uses Gathering to Schmooze, Raise Money

Politics: Delegation runs a virtual 'parallel convention' aimed at cultivating donors and laying the groundwork for future campaigns.

August 16, 1996|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren led the California delegation's welcome for Jack Kemp at their hotel near the convention center earlier this week, then hustled outside and down a walkway to the yacht harbor.

There--aboard a 110-foot vessel called the Dandeana--donors past, present and potential gathered over a late breakfast of scrambled eggs, hash browns and fresh fruit to greet and fete the state's latest rising Republican star.

"I'll guarantee you, it's not for the eggs," Lungren, the front-runner for the 1998 Republican nomination for California governor, said as he stepped aboard the Dandeana, avoiding a direct answer as to why he was attending the reception hosted by the trucking industry's main trade group.

The Lungren reception--and hundreds like it in hotel suites, restaurants, ballrooms, private homes, antique railroad cars and other locales across San Diego--was not just a sidelight to the official business taking place inside the national convention hall. It was almost a parallel convention, one that began at daybreak and lasted as late as anyone wanted.

Sessions of the GOP convention were mainly three- or four-hour diversions from the real work: schmoozing supporters and meeting new donors in the hope of advancing the careers of California's Republicans.

"Every candidate here is collecting business cards," said Shawn Steel, California Republican Party treasurer. "All fund-raising is personal. You build relationships here."

While national Republican leaders worked to focus the country's attention on the presidential election less than three months away, the Californians were dining, drinking, mingling and sailing their way through convention week with their eyes set on the future.

Many--perhaps most--were looking two, four or six years down the line. For Californians expecting to run for statewide office starting in 1998, there was a measure of urgency to the fund-raising.

Two initiatives on this November's ballot would strictly limit campaign fund-raising. If one or both pass, a politician already possessing a hefty war chest would become the favorite.

With that in mind, Brian Lungren, the attorney general's brother and political advisor, is planning a series of fund-raisers aimed at ensuring that Dan Lungren will have at least $2 million in the bank before either initiative would take effect.

The national party frowns on fund-raisers during convention week that don't directly benefit the presidential ticket or the party itself. Such events distract donors from the main point of the national convention: helping Bob Dole capture the White House and keeping Republicans in control of Congress.

Of course, violations of the unwritten rules go on. Rob Hurtt, the state Senate Republican leader from Garden Grove, came into town and hosted a fund-raiser aboard a rented yacht.

Steel was lining up donors for a $1,000-a-head event this weekend for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) at Casa Pacifica, the San Clemente residence of the late President Richard Nixon.

"There are no rules," Steel said. "Everywhere you turn, there's a high-end fund-raiser."

But even more than actual fund-raising, the idea is to make contacts, exchange phone numbers. For politicians on the rise such as Dan Lungren, the events of the parallel convention provide the opportunity to build networks of volunteers and donors.

"I can do more in a week here than I can do in two or three months traveling around the state," Lungren said. "That's what's so great about conventions."

Every politician here, from Gov. Pete Wilson to freshman state legislators, worked overtime this week hosting events or attending others given in their "honor" by donors and special-interest groups.

"I think it is gauche" for politicians other than Dole and Kemp to be raising money during the convention, state Treasurer Matt Fong said. "The focus is on one thing--Dole and Kemp."

But even as Fong spoke, he was leaving the convention floor at the end of one night's session and heading for a cocktail party for himself and other Asian American officeholders, compliments of Pacific Bell, Indian gambling interests and Asian American business groups.

"Well, it is a political convention," said Fong, whose brief address to the convention garnered him national exposure that would help a possible U.S. Senate run in 1998.

With his Republican Assembly colleagues in tow, Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) was especially busy, hosting a dinner Tuesday and a harbor cruise Wednesday for major donors.

The point, Pringle said, was not to raise money but to "thank" past donors. The overflow crowd at the dinner included representatives of oil companies, Indian gambling, developers and manufacturers.

Pringle's goal is maintaining Republican control of the Assembly after the November election. If he succeeds, he probably will become a candidate for higher office in two years, perhaps even vie with Lungren for the gubernatorial nomination.

"The convention gets the juices flowing," California Republican Party Chairman John Herrington said. "We'll go back to the donors [in the weeks to come] and raise the money."

Aside from the benefits for the politicians, the events outside the convention hall give the donors, lobbyists and trade association representatives a chance to socialize with the state's party leaders, lay out their issues and decide how much to contribute to upcoming campaigns.

"It's an important opportunity to educate a lot of elected officials about our industry," said Jim Robinson, spokesman for the American Trucking Assn., which leased the Dandeana for the week. "This is what trade organizations do."

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