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Kerry Keeping Eye On Big Donors

By Beth Lester,
CBS News Political Unit

The Kerry campaign has begun tracking major fundraisers using a Trustee Leader Board, CBS News has learned. While keeping tabs on fundraisers is nothing new, the twist is that the Kerry campaign is tracking donations to the Democratic National Committee, not to the campaign itself.

Under current campaign finance laws, donors can give a maximum of $2,000 to a presidential candidate per election cycle and up to $25,000 per year to party committees. Thus donors can give only $2,000 to Sen. Kerry himself but up to $50,000 to the DNC to support its activities this cycle. These large donations to the DNC allow donors to skirt the contribution cap to the Kerry campaign and give big bucks to the Democratic/Kerry effort through the backdoor.

The Kerry campaign is quick to point out that the Trustee Leader Board is maintained by the DNC and "is a DNC thing." But several donors, who spoke to CBS News on the condition of anonymity, said that the money was being carefully tracked by the Kerry campaign, most likely for recognition should Kerry win the presidency. In a sign of the campaign's involvement, last week's Leader Board memo was sent around by the Kerry campaign itself.

The Kerry Trustee Leader Board is tracking donations made since March 1, 2004, when Kerry became the effective nominee. The goal, said one DC fundraiser familiar with the operation, is to encourage and recognize donors and fundraisers who go beyond the $2K limit and pony up the bigger bucks for the DNC as the election approaches.

The Trustee Leader Board comes out every week and shows how much various fundraisers have contributed personally or convinced their friends to donate. The highest level is for those raising $500,000 or more. Other levels include $250,000–$500,000, $150,000-$250,000 and those who raise over $100,000.

As of last week, according to information received by CBS News, 20 donors have given and/or raised more than $250,000, enough to earn them the designation of Trustee. Of those, eight have actually raised more than $500K. Those half-millions include Texas lobbyist Ben Barnes, Wall Street financier Stan Shuman, Iranian American PAC Board of Trustees member Hassan Nemazee and Texas lawyer Mark Iola. Eventually, says a source inside the process, the over-$500K raisers will have a special name designation but no moniker has been chosen yet.

Other familiar names who've raised more than $250,000 (and possibly more than $500K) are former DNC finance chair and Denise Rich friend Beth Dozoretz, former Clinton ambassador to the Bahamas Arthur Schechter, Saban Entertainment head Haim Saban, former Dick Gephard deputy campaign manager Richard Sullivan, old Kerry friend Sam Grossman and AIPAC stalwart Alan Solomont.

In the over-$100,000 category, 189 people have reached the "Patriot" level. Approximately 60 of those names have anted up since March 1, when the Kerry campaign began keeping score and almost 20 of those donors have actually raised/given between $150,000 and $250,000. That level of donor will also have a special name designation at some point in the future.

Among those competing along the $100-250K axis are well-known givers like former Gore finance director Johnny Hayes, UBS Warburg LLC's Blair Effron, Seinfeld creator Larry David and American Trial Lawyers Association head (and former John Edwards supporter) Fred Baron.

Also in that section are a number of new donors. Says one DC lobbyist, "these are not names you're going to know." These donors include former Bush-backer and Cuban-American activist Fernando Amandi; Lori Bonn of Hillsborough, Calif., whose first political donation was this year; Sandy River Health Systems chair David Friedman, another first-time giver; Tax Payers Against Fraud board member Gregory Lawler; and Capital City Group founder Gerald Harrington, who gave his first big check ($25,000) to the DNC on April 7, 2004.

The Kerry campaign is, not surprisingly, thrilled with the outpouring of cash, and various donors who spoke to CBS News were also exceptionally pleased with the turnout. Said a major Texas fundraiser, it is a "record-breaking" turnout, "larger than when Clinton was in office."

Amid all this money, some watchdogs are raising eyebrows. Although the Kerry campaign's tracking is perfectly legal, Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics notes that tracking donors is a sign that "campaigns, political parties and donors do all understand that this is a system of giving and getting rewards for giving." And, Noble continues, "Kerry, like Bush, plans to acknowledge these people if he wins the election. And that could be in the form of government appointments, ambassordorships, favorable hearings on administration policies."

The possible impropriety between major donors and major appointments is not lost on anyone. After CBS News obtained a copy of the memo, several donors were alerted by the DNC and members of the Kerry campaign. Some of those donors then asked to have their names removed from the list and to remain anonymous to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in the future, said one donor whose name remains on the list.

Although the Trustee Leader Board will continue to be updated every week, it seems unlikely that memos will keep going out to every fundraiser. For now, the Kerry campaign is keeping much more mum on its tracking.

By Beth Lester

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