Donald Bren and a group of fellow Republicans raised more money at a small Thursday night gathering on behalf of presidential nominee George W. Bush than the candidate did himself two weeks ago when he attended a Newport Beach party and drummed up $1 million.
Organizers of Thursday's fund-raiser wouldn't divulge the exact amount raised at Bren's Newport Beach home but acknowledged that the party, arranged only within the last week, exceeded the take from the Bush event--without the Republican candidate in attendance.
"It surpassed anything that I'm aware of that's been done in Orange County," said Thomas E. Tucker, chairman of JenStar Capital of Newport Beach, who co-hosted both events.
"I don't know the last time a small group of people got together in a living room and raised that kind of money in a half-hour," said Mark C. Johnson, president of Chapin Medical Co.
The reception, eclipsing the high-water mark for local political fund-raising, set five weeks ago by Bush, was co-sponsored by four members of the New Majority Committee. The group also co-hosted the Sept. 13 dinner with Bush, directing the night's collections to the state GOP's Victory 2000 campaign.
Many of the 40 couples who paid $25,000 per couple at last month's dinner with Bush also attended Thursday's fund-raiser, which hosted about three dozen people and featured an unnamed "senior Bush advisor."
"People that were there were really energized by George Bush's performance in the debates and his surging in the polls," Tucker said of Thursday's gathering. "People there felt they could have a serious impact on the potential to win California. They sense victory and they want to take the ball over the goal line."
Johnson, who is treasurer of the New Majority, said Bush--with his message of compassionate conservatism and inclusion--is an "ideal candidate" for the group.
The money raised at Bren's party will be spent for television ads in the Los Angeles area. It will be added to $14.5 million that had already been raised to boost the Bush campaign in California in the final two weeks before the Nov. 7 election, a high-level source at Victory 2000 said. Roughly half that money is earmarked for TV and radio.
This week, state party activists pounced on opinion polls showing the race between Bush and Vice President Al Gore tightening in California, a state with 1.6 million more Democrats than Republicans and where the contest had been conceded to Gore.
Last week, state GOP officials began prodding donors for more media money to benefit Bush and other Republican candidates across the ticket.
The success of this week's fund-raiser so close on the heels of last month's event demonstrates the financial punch of the nascent New Majority group, which has about 100 members.
They initially were dismissed as "country club Republicans" by conservative party leaders, who seemed ruffled by the group's pledge to broaden the party by eliminating litmus-test politics over divisive issues including abortion and gun control.
The four sponsors of Thursday's event reflected the group's mix of veteran and new donors to the party: Tucker, Bren, Johnson and Paul Folino, CEO of Emulex Corp. Bren, a longtime GOP donor, is CEO of the Irvine Co., the county's biggest property holder and landlord.