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Well-Heeled 'Rangers' Oil Bush Reelection Machine

Millions already raised have some questioning agendas of donors and organizers themselves.

August 04, 2003|Mark Fineman | Times Staff Writer

GREENSBORO, Ga. — In the secluded, 8,000-acre splendor of the Reynolds Plantation luxury resort, Georgia showered President Bush with money last month.

Jamie Reynolds, 52, presided. The self-described pond-fishing country boy, whose blue jeans and five-day stubble belied a fortune that includes the Plantation complex, had rounded up hundreds of his friends and neighbors; each forked over $2,000 for a few sips of wine, some finger food and 26 minutes with the president.

Also key to the event was Eric Tanenblatt, 36, chief of staff to Georgia's first Republican governor in 130 years. Working on his home computer in Atlanta, he had created a network of key contributors, each charged with drawing additional donors.

Because of their efforts, more than 600 Georgians gathered under one tent on the night of June 20. Checks were sent by hundreds of others they had contacted. The total take for Bush's reelection campaign: at least $2.25 million. That's more than he raised in Georgia throughout his first run for the presidency.

For their sweat, Reynolds and Tanenblatt won the title of "ranger" -- that's the Bush campaign's designation for supporters who account for at least $200,000 in contributions.

Reynolds and Tanenblatt are among a growing corps of these financial field generals in a campaign poised to shatter all known U.S. benchmarks for political giving.

The money raised in Georgia fed into a pot of more than $34 million the Bush campaign amassed nationwide through June 30. Bolstered by recent fund-raisers in Texas and elsewhere, the total has topped $45 million.

The cash would continue to flow this month, when Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are scheduled to appear at big-money events from Minneapolis to San Diego. Ultimately, the campaign's bottom-line could top $200 million, easily surpassing the record of roughly $100 million raised in Bush's 2000 race.

The president's war chest already dwarfs the totals for any his Democratic rivals. And the vast sums funneled to Bush have left many campaign-finance reformers concerned about the agendas of the donors -- and the rangers who are enlisting them.

The campaign's 23 rangers include such well-heeled, long-time Bush supporters as Carl H. Lindner, a former chief executive of the Chiquita Brands food company who owns the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and one of the largest insurance companies in the Midwest. Also on the list: Silicon Valley financier Gregory Slayton, Missouri venture capitalist Sam Fox and Merrill Lynch & Co. Chief Executive Stanley O'Neal.

A closer look at Reynolds and Tanenblatt and the fund-raiser they organized reveals much about how this new cash machine works.

Documents the Bush campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission show that tens of thousands of the Georgia dollars came from top executives of some of the largest corporations based in the state: Coca-Cola, Home Depot, UPS, Aflac insurance and Total Systems Services, one of the world's largest processors of credit-card transactions.

Two influential, Georgia-based law firms also were well represented. At one of them -- King & Spalding, which advertises that its Washington office "occupies an ideal perch ... adjacent to the White House" -- nearly 30 attorneys ponied up a total of more than $30,000.

Such donations are typical of fund-raising patterns nationwide. But the extra work by Reynolds and Tanenblatt help explain Bush's success.

Aided by the GOP's strong showing in Georgia's 2002 elections and solid support for Bush statewide, the pair cajoled donations from a wide range of givers. FEC documents show that the list includes farmers, small businessmen, rural professionals, a flight attendant and pro football coach -- each of whom contributed the $2,000 maximum allowed for individuals.

One recent Bush administration decision has led some Democrats to wonder about possible quid pro quos.

Just three weeks after the Reynolds Plantation fund-raiser, the White House announced it selected Sea Island, Ga., as the site of next year's G-8 summit.

Among the $2,000 contributors at the fund-raiser was Alfred W. "Bill" Jones III, chairman of the firm that owns the island's main hotel. The gathering of leaders of the world's eight wealthiest industrialized nations is expected to pump hundreds of millions of dollars of business into the island and other parts of the state.

Bush campaign officials, administration sources, Tanenblatt, Reynolds and Jones said there was no connection between the fund-raiser and the choice of Sea Island to host the G-8 meeting. The site, they said, was picked mainly for security reasons.

"I don't think it was a payoff," Tanenblatt said. "I think the venue sold itself."

He did acknowledge that close ties between Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and the White House didn't hurt Sea Island's chances. "You have to assume that having a friendly governor is helpful," he said.

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