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In Upstart Campaign, Bradley Flexes His Fund-Raising Muscles

With financial support from first-time donors and Wall Street, the former senator is waging a credible race against Gore.

July 20, 1999|MARC LACEY and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Carl Schweser has joined a growing number of Democrats voting with their checkbooks in the 2000 presidential campaign--and they're sending an unsettling message to Vice President Al Gore.

"I guess Bill Bradley has caught my eye as a guy who gets things done," said Schweser, a University of Iowa business professor who made his first-ever campaign contribution, $1,000, after hearing the former senator from New Jersey speak at a neighbor's house.

"He's certainly not flashy," Schweser added approvingly. "I'm 6-foot-5 myself, and his shirttails hang out just like mine."

Millions of dollars from first-time donors like Schweser and bushels of bucks from Wall Street have combined to build an impressive bankroll for Bradley's upstart campaign, positioning him for a stronger-than-expected challenge to the vice president.

Anti-Clinton sentiments have certainly helped. Susan Barton, a Palo Alto lawyer, and her husband each gave Bradley $1,000. "I think he bears some taint of the present administration," Barton said of Gore, "and he's a total yawn for me."

But a closer look at how Bradley raised his $11.7 million in the first half of the year compared with Gore's $19.5 million shows the challenger has also been surprisingly successful at forging a financial constituency beyond just the disillusioned and disaffected.

Interviews and analyses suggest many Bradley backers are not necessarily anti-Gore. Rather, they are attracted to Bradley's low-key, cerebral nature or his celebrity as a former basketball star for Princeton University and the New York Knicks. A check of Bradley's 15,469 largest donors found that fewer than 200 gave money to the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996.

At the same time, despite his upstart image, Bradley's fund-raising base is hardly dominated by everyday Joes scraping together a few dollars to help. In fact, the $605 average contribution to Bradley was more than five times the average for Gore ($114) and even more than the average for well-funded Texas Gov. George W. Bush ($467).

An analysis conducted for The Times and CNN by the nonpartisan Campaign Study Group found that lawyers and financiers are the most common job categories among Bradley's 19,000 contributors. Many donors come from powerhouse Wall Street firms.

His biggest backers, according to filings from January through June, were employees and their relatives who do not work at Lehman Bros. ($79,750); Goldman, Sachs & Co. ($71,500); Salomon Smith Barney ($64,150); Merrill Lynch & Co. ($63,000); and Morgan Stanley Group ($57,750).

A good deal of Bradley's success grows out of his senatorial days, when he put together a fund-raising base that regularly took him to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major financial centers.

The metropolitan areas supporting Bradley's presidential bid most generously, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, were Chicago ($1 million) and New York ($797,250).

Southern California was generous as well, the Campaign Study Group found. Los Angeles County accounted for $475,374 of Bradley's total. Another $405,000 came from the Bay Area.

Prodigious Fund-Raiser

"Going back to his Senate career, he's always had the ability to raise a substantial amount of money," said Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist. "He's always done very well in the New York-New Jersey area raising money. He's always had good relationships with Wall Street."

More recently, Carrick noted, Bradley's yearlong academic residency at Stanford helped build ties to Silicon Valley and Hollywood, among other constituencies.

Under federal law, the maximum allowable contribution to a presidential candidate is $1,000 per person. Just 2.6% of Bradley's money came from donors who gave less than $200, the smallest percentage among the major candidates of either party. Small contributions represented 11.1% of Gore's donations.

Indeed, so many Bradley supporters "maxed out," in the political parlance, that one Gore advisor dubbed him "Thousand-Dollar Bill"--a play on "Dollar Bill," the old basketball nickname attesting to Bradley's superstar status.

"Bradley is theoretically running a campaign of the small people," a Gore strategist sniped, "that's supposed to be anti-Washington and anti-establishment. . . . Yet when you take a look at his contributions and contributor list, it reeks of the establishment."

But Gina Glantz, manager of Bradley's campaign, argued the challenger has received money "from many sources."

"We have done very well in California. We have done very well outside of Washington. We have over $250,000 in Internet donations," Glantz said. "These are people who go on to our Web site, read about Bill Bradley and send in $50, $100 or, in rare cases, $1,000. That's a lot of grass-roots support and a lot of people."

Gore, of course, has been no fund-raising slouch, although his take in the first six months of the year was overshadowed by Bush's record $37-million haul.

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