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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Top Fundraisers Earn Right to Party

Those who raised $100,000 or more for Bush could get invited to be state delegates. They also enjoy special access and other perks as they schmooze with politicians.

August 31, 2004|Lisa Getter and Susannah Rosenblatt | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — Cincinnati businessman Ron Beshear never thought he'd be chosen as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. But after raising more than $150,000 for President Bush's reelection effort, he got a phone call from the Ohio Republican Party.

"They just called and asked me if I wanted to be a delegate," said Beshear, 57. "I didn't ask."

Beshear is part of a new breed of fundraiser receiving special attention at this year's political conventions. Like his Democratic counterparts who are collecting money for John F. Kerry, he and other Republican fundraisers are being rewarded with coveted slots in state delegations.

Roughly one out of every five of Bush's top fundraisers -- individuals who have raised $100,000 or more -- is a delegate here.

When the Democrats held their national convention in Boston, about 17.5% of Kerry's top fundraisers -- who raised $50,000 or more -- attended as delegates.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 08, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
Bush fundraisers -- An Aug. 31 article in Section A about top fundraisers for President Bush being feted at the Republican National Convention said they attended a Welcome to New York concert featuring singer Linda Eder. Although she had originally agreed to perform, Eder canceled after learning it was a political event.

Although delegates pay their own way to the conventions, they are wined and dined at dozens of lavish corporate parties, many thrown in their honor.

They get special access to the convention floor, the right to cast a vote for the party's nominee and a chance to schmooze with politicians and other heavyweights from around the country.

"It's another aspect of the integration of these top fundraisers into the campaign," said campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado, a political science professor at Colby College in Maine.

"If you're going to the convention, the best way to go is to go as a delegate."

The presence of high-powered fundraisers in state delegations reflects the changing nature of the political parties themselves.

Instead of relying on volunteers who knocked on doors and stuffed envelopes, the campaigns are dependent more and more on CEOs, lawyers, lobbyists and others who can turn to their Rolodexes or Christmas card lists to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars -- money that is essential for television and other advertising.

Those fundraisers who are not tapped as delegates also get special treatment at the conventions, including private briefings and exclusive cocktail parties with prominent Republicans.

In New York, the number of top fundraiser-delegates is 121, about 2.5% of the 4,852 delegates and alternates at this week's Republican convention, according to a study by The Times. In Boston, 99 top fundraiser-delegates attended the Democratic National Convention, about 2% of the total 4,964 delegates and alternates.

Each campaign identifies top fundraisers based on different thresholds of money -- a minimum of $100,000 collected on behalf of Bush, $50,000 for Kerry.

The Times study identified dozens of other delegates at each convention who were family members of fundraisers. It also found that some states sent a disproportionate number compared to the size of their delegation.

New Jersey, for instance, has 52 delegates. Six are Bush fundraisers, about 12% of the total. Two alternates are also top money-raisers for the Bush campaign.

"It's a way of rewarding the faithful, in this case, the financially faithful," said John S. Jackson, a political science professor and authority on presidential conventions at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Each state has its own rules for choosing delegates. Some elect delegates; others select them at state conventions. Still other states allow party leaders to pick them.

Members of Congress are usually given a slot. Delegates have been active politically, though the route to the conventions in years past more often involved grass-roots organizing than collecting checks.

Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Vermont and New Mexico had just one top fundraiser in the state -- and that person was also included as a delegate to the Republican convention. All of Hawaii's four fundraisers for Bush are convention delegates, out of 37 state delegates and alternates.

In Tennessee, the Bush campaign gave guidance to the party on delegate selection. Seven fundraisers are among Tennessee's 55-member delegation and two others are alternates.

Mark Tipps, a Nashville lawyer who raised $100,000 for the Bush campaign, said he wasn't sure what criteria was used to select him as a delegate. "I was asked to be a delegate and was pleased to do so," he said.

Although the 43-year-old Tennessean said he had been "around the fringes" of politics for a decade, this presidential race was the first time he had raised money.

Beshear, the Cincinnati fundraiser, said the campaign was so pleased with an information guide he and his wife put together for a Christian outreach session that they duplicated it in other cities nationwide, an effort that drew $3 million in donations to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

But he was surprised, he said, when Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett called inviting him to be a delegate.

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