Bush, The Record Fund-Raiser

campaign fund-raising campaign finance politics money
AP / CBS
First comes the advance work by White House political adviser Karl Rove, followed by several phone calls and letters from big-time money-raisers known as "pioneers." Then, finally, is the visit from President Bush, who brings along his folksy humor but often leaves before dinner is done.

The president's fund raising ability has been honed to precision since his first campaign for Texas governor in 1994, when he raised $16 million.

Now, he is on the way to taking in a predicted $200 million or more for next year's presidential primaries, even without a GOP opponent.

The businesslike Mr. Bush relishes the cheers and applause of donors. At a $3.5 million fund-raising dinner in Los Angeles late last month, the president thanked the crowd repeatedly for its standing ovation, but also flashed an "all right-already" determination to get on with his speech. After 20 minutes of talking, there were 10 minutes of handshakes. Then it was out the door and to Air Force One.

In most appearances, Mr. Bush mixes in joking references to his family. At a San Francisco area luncheon in late June, he told the crowd of roughly 800 that he wished first lady Laura Bush had accompanied him.

He said he planned to see her later at their Texas ranch. "She will be the lump in the bed next to me since I get in at 1:30 in the morning," the president said.

Mr. Bush's style has changed since his days as governor, but it still smacks of a "kind of a laid-back Texas style," sort of that of a "good ol' boy," said William Bokovoy, a Houston real-estate investor who helped raise money for Mr. Bush's first gubernatorial campaign and is now a presidential donor.

"I think he speaks a lot better now. His syntax has certainly improved," Bokovoy said. "He certainly has acquired a statesman's presence."

For many donors, substance is more important than style, Bokovoy said. "They look at his policies more than they do whether the man has a Hollywood personality," he said.

The groundwork for a Bush fund-raiser is laid weeks ahead of time.

Rove often goes into a target state in advance to rally the lead organizers. Much of the money is raised by Mr. Bush's "pioneers," volunteer businessmen who collect at least $100,000.

This election, Mr. Bush created a new class of fund-raisers called rangers, who solicit at least $200,000 each. At least a half-dozen people have raised enough since Mr. Bush began his campaign in mid-May to earn the new designation, a Republican official said.

The volunteer fund-raisers spend days and sometimes weeks working their lists of prospective donors before an event.

Glen Holden, a former U.S. ambassador, said he started raising money for Mr. Bush's Los Angeles fund-raiser three weeks before and had raised $144,000 for the $2,000-per-ticket dinner.

"I just have a long, long list, and I first send them out a letter, and then I get on the telephone and start calling them," Holden said. In the letter, "I tell them that I think our president is doing a wonderful job and so many people agree with the way I feel, and this is the kickoff for his campaign, and I think all of us should show we're behind him in the very beginning, and this is a good time to start."

Holden first raised money for Republicans 40 years ago as finance chairman for the Oregon GOP. After moving to California, he raised money for the campaigns of Ronald Reagan and Mr. Bush's father, the 41st president.

Such longtime Republican fund-raisers are the backbone of Mr. Bush's network. Many are family friends or associates.

The fund-raising deal is closed when Mr. Bush arrives for an event. But unlike his famously gregarious predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, Mr. Bush does not spend hours working a room. Instead, he usually sticks to a schedule.

At the California events, he spoke for about 20 minutes and then shook hands for about 10 minutes before he left. Donors ate as the president did his work, but Mr. Bush passed on the food.

Those who raise enough in political donations typically are invited to have their photos taken with the president at small receptions before the fund-raisers. Most donors - those who simply give $2,000 to attend the fund-raiser - do not get near him unless they are seated closely enough to the podium to be in range when Mr. Bush shakes hands.

The crowd interaction is hardly natural. A bodyguard typically moves in tandem with Mr. Bush, standing behind him with a hand on his back, as television sound men follow along with microphones lowered on booms.

Peter Pfendler, a rancher in Sonoma County, Calif., who attended Mr. Bush's San Francisco area fund-raiser, was among those to shake Mr. Bush's hand after his speech. Mr. Bush chatted, picking up on references people made to his parents, Pfendler said.

As for Pfendler, "I was just a guy in the line," he said with a smile.