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Democrats Pick Convention Chief

Politics: Fund-raising whiz Terry McAuliffe becomes chairman, replacing Roy Romer.

June 09, 2000|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Terry McAuliffe, renowned as the Democratic Party's fund-raising mastermind, is becoming chairman of the Democratic National Convention as planners rush to raise the last $7 million needed to pay for the Los Angeles event.

McAuliffe is replacing Roy Romer, the former Colorado governor who resigned from the convention leadership post to become superintendent of the Los Angeles school district. McAuliffe, who two weeks ago choreographed the largest fund-raiser in political history for the party, is a longtime friend of President Clinton.

Democrats and city leaders are hoping McAuliffe will use his skills to pick up the fund-raising pace for the August convention in downtown Los Angeles. In recent weeks, under the guidance of a former top aide to Mayor Richard Riordan, the host committee of local civic and business leaders has been trying to regain its footing after slipping early in the effort to raise $35.3 million for the convention.

McAuliffe said he took the job as head of the national convention after Vice President Al Gore called and asked him to take the post Wednesday. "My goal is to make this the greatest convention of all time," McAuliffe said. The host committee, he said, is "at the end zone, and working with me [will] help them finish it up."

As for his role in closing the fund-raising gap, he said "the issue of the money is a nonissue. It will be done very quickly."

Democrats have reason to believe in McAuliffe's cash-scrounging speed. He raked in a record $26 million in one night at the Democrats' barbecue for Clinton in Washington and claims to have raised about $275 million for Clinton's interests over the years. He's trolled for dollars for Clinton's legal defense fund, his presidential library and Hillary Clinton's Senate race, and even offered to personally guarantee the Clintons' mortgage on the New York home they were purchasing.

Noelia Rodriguez, the former Riordan aide who now is running the local host committee, said its fund-raisers have mapped out a "combination of market segments, industries and individuals" who have not been fully tapped for donations.

McAuliffe's devotion to fund-raising dates back to President Jimmy Carter's reelection effort. In the 1980s, he pulled in record sums for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, headed by Tony Coelho, a former California congressman who now is campaign chairman for Al Gore.

McAuliffe rose to become Clinton's top money man, serving as the national finance chairman of the Clinton-Gore reelection committee in 1996 and presiding over the 1997 inaugural celebration.

From time to time, McAuliffe's name has surfaced in legal battles involving the intersection of business and politics.

In 1997, an insurance company that had a consulting deal with McAuliffe agreed to pay $317,500 to settle allegations that it failed to disclose the arrangement when leasing office space to the U.S. government.

In Los Angeles, uncertainty over the host committee's purse had been a sore point with the Democratic National Convention Committee.

Much of the money raised by the host committee is coming in as in-kind contributions--services provided in lieu of cash--but convention planners need cash to pay for construction of the podium and other structures in the convention hall, lighting and production expenses.

Since Riordan took a more active role in the host committee effort this spring, it has been running at full steam, owing partly to Rodriguez's management and partly to Riordan's attention to fund-raising. In late March, billionaire Eli Broad donated $1 million to bump the committee over the $26-million mark.

Rodriguez said Thursday the committee now has $31.5 million in in-kind and cash contributions. Finishing off the last of the money chase, Rodriguez joked, "is like losing those last five pounds."

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