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THE NATION

The unlikely man behind Paul's fundraising curtain

Trevor Lyman, who had never even voted, used his Internet savvy to collect millions for the Republican hopeful.

December 16, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Trevor Lyman is unshaven, wearing a T-shirt and jeans and sitting at the dining table of his rented home. Scattered around him are a one-pound bag of M&Ms, liter-size bottles of soda and a box of Frosted Flakes -- the cereal accounts for his recommended daily allowance of vitamins.

Lyman doesn't look the part of political fat cat. But as he monitors his laptop, money rolls in. Most comes in small increments. In a testament to the power of the Internet as a political tool, the nickels and dimes amount to hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars.

It is all for his hero, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the libertarian-Republican presidential candidate who has raised more than $10 million in the last few weeks but has yet to hit double digits in the polls.

The 2008 presidential contest is breaking fundraising records. Hedge-fund moguls, Hollywood titans, oil billionaires and the like deliver much of the money.

But when the final accounting is done, Lyman -- little known outside the Internet world of Paul acolytes -- could be among the biggest fundraisers of them all.

In politics, money gives a campaign legitimacy. And Lyman has used the Internet to reach out to other Paul backers -- disaffected Republicans, independents and some Democrats -- by setting up a website and encouraging them to create what he calls a "money bomb."

"It was very difficult for Ron Paul to get attention. We had to come up with a way for him to get press," Lyman says, occasionally taking a bite of buttered, once-frozen bagel.

The first "bomb" detonated Nov. 5, when Paul backers pledged an estimated $4.2 million. (The actual take won't be known until Jan. 31, when candidates next file campaign finance statements.)

Lyman's next donation date, Nov. 30, was a bit of a disappointment, bringing in pledges for a mere $500,000. He since has helped raise $200,000 to pay for a blimp that will hover above New Hampshire, advertising Paul, through the Jan. 8 primary.

"Having a blimp around here would be some big news," Lyman said.

He hopes the biggest haul will come today. As any Paul backer knows, it's the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Lyman has set up a website, www.teaparty07.com, that includes a bill of particulars explaining why people should donate to Paul.

"I would hope we will be around $6 million, but I don't really know," Lyman said.

Lyman, a 37-year-old musician and Internet entrepreneur, didn't finish college. He was living in balmy Florida -- running a website called musicsubmit.com that enables artists to bypass major record labels and market their songs -- when he caught the Ron Paul bug.

He recently relocated to snowy Manchester and shares a house with several other Paul devotees.

Vijay Boyapati, 29, is an Australian native who made a fortune at Google. Now a U.S. citizen, he has set up a political committee called Operation Live Free or Die, and is renting houses throughout New Hampshire to shelter what he hopes will be 1,000 Paul volunteers.

"In this one household, we can change the course of the election," Boyapati said.

Lyman and his housemates have never met Paul, although the candidate has called Lyman to thank him for his efforts. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Paul pronounced his name "Clymon."

"We don't know a whole heck of a lot about him," Paul communications director Jesse Benton said of Lyman. "But he has been doing a tremendous job of organizing the grass roots."

Paul has used the money raised by volunteers to hire staff and buy television airtime. Although he could obtain millions more in matching funds from the Federal Election Commission, Benton said, "Ron rejects matching funds on principle. Ron is not the kind of guy who compromises."

Lyman spends much of his time generating attention for his candidate by answering e-mails from media outlets -- XM Satellite Radio, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, CNN. One is from a particularly attractive producer. Perhaps, Lyman muses, he can find a little romance, though he notes he has gained a bit of weight lately.

Like many Paul backers, Lyman is a political novice. He's never even bothered to vote. But he had to act, he said, when the new Democratic majority in Congress didn't pull the troops out of Iraq. Lyman was drawn to Paul because of his promise to end the war immediately.

"I know my tax dollars are being used to kill people," Lyman said. "It makes me feel horrible."

Lyman knows that Paul's views make him an outsider. But he sees the flood of Paul donations as representing "the will of the people." The Internet, he said, made it possible.

"I love that," Lyman said. "I can have 300 friends, and get in touch with them all by sending one e-mail. . . . You can't stop it."

dan.morain@latimes.com

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