Publisher Steve Forbes spent $37.5 million of his own money for his first run for the White House. This time, he wants others to write most of the checks.
Through $1,000-a-plate dinners and "Dear friend" letters seeking as little as $25, the Republican presidential candidate is trying to build a network of contributors to prove his 2000 campaign "is bigger than one person" and one person's money. Aides say he's already raised $2.5 million.
"It's very important to demonstrate that people are willing to invest their time, their resources, their efforts to promote our efforts," Forbes said. "It gives credibility to the campaign."
Early estimates from other campaigns indicate Forbes' second-quarter fund-raising is competitive with that of other Republican hopefuls, except for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the runaway leader with more than $23 million raised so far.
Forbes, who raised only $4.2 million through his whole 1996 campaign, hopes to collect a total $15 million to $20 million for 2000.
Campaign manager Bill Dal Col described the contributors as mostly "conservative, new people who haven't been involved before" in politics.
Appealing for donations is a way to build grass roots support, analysts say. People who have invested money in a candidate's success are more likely to show up at party caucuses, vote in primaries and volunteer their time.
"It's the old idea of putting your money where your mouth is," said Herbert Alexander, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Southern California. "If somebody gives money, it's a little more of a commitment than just saying, 'I support you."'
But State University of New York professor Alan Chartock still expects Forbes to pay for most of the campaign himself.
"The downside of asking for money is that he risks obviating the rich man syndrome, which holds that people who are rich don't owe anybody anything and don't have to steal to get it," Chartock said.
Aides say Forbes remains willing to spend whatever is necessary from his own pocket. He launched his campaign with $695,000 of his own money and negligible fund raising through March.
In 1996, Forbes contributed $37.5 million of the $41.7 million his campaign cost. Forbes said he had to pay his own way that time because he started too late to set up an extensive fund-raising operation.
As before, Forbes is not taking any federal matching funds for his campaign, meaning that he is not bound by the campaign spending limits that accompany them. Bush also is looking at whether he should forgo the matching funds so he does not have to limit his campaign spending.
Forbes has tapped into a network of well-heeled friends. He raised $1 million at a New York City fund-raiser earlier this month in the Art Deco grand ballroom of the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
At the same time, the millionaire is taking in small contributions through mass mailings o conservatives of more modest means. He coupled a fund-raising letter with a survey asking potential supporters whether change was being blocked by the "Clinton-Gore administration's culture of corruption" or by "Republicans in Congress that are too willing to compromise their principles."