By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
President Bush's re-election campaign has coupled the time-honored tradition of the chicken-dinner whistle-stop tour with the 21st-century technology of electronic check-tracking and a bit of Texas terminology to produce a monster of political fundraising.
"Soft money" has been outlawed. And individual contributions are limited to $2,000 each. Now the key word is "bundling."
Bush has three levels of bundlers who woo friends and allies to high-ticket (usually $1,000-a-plate) campaign lunches and dinners. Rangers are those committed to raising at least $200,000 each for the campaign; Pioneers have a goal of $100,000; and Mavericks are the under-40 crowd aiming at $50,000 each. (During the 2000 campaign, Bush had only the Pioneer category, of which Enron's Ken Lay was a member.)
Donors at the rallies put special tracking numbers on their campaign checks so that Dubya's workers can credit bundlers as they try to meet their goals. Scores of top Republicans, including elected and appointed officials, are already Rangers and Pioneers, of course, and their loyalty is still tallied. Donors get the thrill of hearing either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney at the event. Bundlers get hang time with party and business celebrities, perhaps even with Dubya or Dick.
Bush-Cheney 04 Inc., the official name of the president's campaign, has hauled in more than $70 million of its total $84.7 million war chest from the nationwide Dubya-Dick tour alone. And that's just through September 30. The president may top $200 million, twice what he spent in 2000, when he had primary opponents.
"Ohhhh, I think we'll raise about a gazillion dollars. Maybe three or four gazillion," Al Hoffman, finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, said of an upcoming stop by Bush at Hoffman's Florida home.
Following is the Bush campaign's official list of 100 Rangers, 185 Pioneers, and 20 Mavericks. Watchdog groups suspect that there are hundreds more. But who's counting?
Bush-Cheney 04 Inc. is breeding another generation of Al Hoffman- type fundraisers, the under-40 Mavericks. Here are the 20 that the campaign lists "as of September 30":
Tony Antone, Michigan: A top aide to a developer, and already a Pioneer. (The Bush campaign's data on who's a Pioneer, Maverick, or Ranger contains other such inconsistencies.) He's a former aide to fellow Arab American Michigan pol Spencer Abraham, now secretary of energy.
Jeff Ballabon, New York: Rising star among what The Forward calls "a cadre of Generation X Republican Jewish activists, many of them Orthodox." A hawk on Israeleven The Forward refers to him as a right-winger in that sense. "The president will give the Palestinians as much slack as they need to have a fair shot at success, or to hang themselves," Ballabon has said. Co-chaired a June 23 fundraising dinner starring Bush in Manhattan that raked in $4 million. Heads the public-policy department at magazine and Web behemoth Primedia. As a Court TV executive, was a key figure early on in negotiating with states to allow cameras in their courtrooms.
Marshall Cooper, New Hampshire: Executive at Kennedy Information. Was the original publisher, a few years ago, of Consulting magazine, now a bible of the industry. The magazine's Top 25 consultants of 2002 included Rudy Giuliani, ex-New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, and current Iraq pasha, L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer.
Husein Cumber, Florida: Listed by the campaign as both a Pioneer and a Ranger. Assistant vice president for public affairs for Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), a key branch of Florida's largest private landholder, the St. Joe Co. Former campaign aide to Governor Jeb Bush. "What you're seeing," Cumber has said of his fundraising for Dubya, "is a group of people that all have distinct Rolodexes as well as the ability to reach out into their communities." This past July, a Miami/Dade County environmental agency reached into the low-income Hialeah community to begin investigating whether FECI, which is facing whistle-blower lawsuits, has covered up hazardous-materials spills at its rail yard there since the mid 1990s.
Paul Dickerson, Texas: Houston tax, contracts, and business-planning lawyer. Already a Pioneer. Appointed in 2001 to the Texas Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Told Texas Lawyer magazine in December 2002 that one of his five favorite Web-surfing sites was appointee.brookings.org. Why? "This nonpartisan site helps presidential nominees during their political appointment process. It is an amazing resource for those interested in presidential appointments." Six months later, Dickerson, only five years out of law school and just an associate at Houston firm Haynes and Boone, was appointed to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative's Industry Sector Advisory Committee on Services for Trade Policy Matters, where he rubs elbows with such fellow members as Donald A. Deline, director of government affairs for Halliburton, and Laura Lane, Time Warner Inc.'s vice president for international public policy.
Christopher Egan, Massachusetts: Son of Richard Egan, founder of Massachusetts computer database firm EMC and appointed by Bush as ambassador to Ireland after being fined by the FEC for exceeding contribution limits. Richard Egan, who had no diplomatic experience, served for two years before retiring. Chris, brother Mike, and Pop are all Rangersthe only such family trio in the country. Since 1999, the Egans have given almost $900,000 to federal candidates and party committees, 91 percent of it to Republicans.