Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Top GOP Hopefuls Seek Bush Fundraising Network

My lecture every semester on presidential nominations is one of my favorites of the term. I especially enjoy discussing presidential campaign finance. The size of campaign warchests in recent elections has been astronomical, and my students get a kick out of the process, even if they don't understand caucuses and primaries all that well.

One of the more interesting parts of the discussion is the Bush family's fundraising power, which helped G.W. Bush win the GOP nomination in 2000. Thus, I got a kick out of yesterday's Los Angeles Times , which had a great piece on the efforts of top Republicans to secure an inside advantage as the heir to the Bush family fundraising network. Check it out:
With the Bushes preparing to stand down from a quarter century in top elected offices, a frenzied competition has erupted in the Republican Party over who will inherit a fundraising and vote-getting machine built by the family over the years into one of the most valuable assets in modern politics.

At stake is access to an elaborate national network of corporate givers, campaign strategists and grass-roots volunteers who have repeatedly propelled the Bushes to victory — a network that could now give a new contender the inside track to winning the GOP's 2008 presidential nomination.

The leading potential heirs to that political fortune so far are Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a onetime rival to the current President Bush and presumed front-runner for the nomination, and, a bit surprisingly, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has emerged as a top-tier contender by wooing social conservatives considered crucial in the early primary contests.

Adding to the drama, a sibling divide appears to be emerging among aides closest to President Bush and his brother, outgoing Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Some key members of Gov. Bush's tight-knit inner circle have signed up to help Romney, while several of President Bush's senior strategists have gone to McCain. They include the media advisor and political director for the president's 2004 campaign.

The fight for the Bush family mantle demonstrates that, even after the plunge in the president's popularity and the GOP's thumping in the midterm election, the family network remains the single most powerful force in Republican Party politics.

It is a machine born four decades ago, when Barbara and George H.W. Bush moved to Texas and began to build a political life — meticulously filling index cards with names of possible supporters and dutifully sending out Christmas greetings each year. Far from that simple, mid-20th century approach, today's GOP relies on a broad database of backers across the country whose relationships have been nurtured by generations of Bushes.

From the family's West Texas oil fortunes and Wall Street connections half a century ago, the network has grown to include the big-money fundraisers, dubbed "pioneers" and "rangers," who helped George W. Bush raise more than $500 million for his two presidential campaigns.

It also includes Bush family loyalists such as Karl Rove, who have, over the last six years, presided over the GOP's creation of the most exhaustive voter-targeting operation available, an infrastructure that relies on databases of voter names and the enthusiasm of ground-level workers and volunteers.

"The Bush name is the gold standard in Republican primaries," said Mark McKinnon, former media advisor to President Bush, who is now working with McCain. Hiring staffers viewed as close to the family, he said, "helps confer some credibility and experience or acceptability."
One of the key techniques of the Pioneers was to have each member find ten contributors who'd each donate $1,000 and then find ten more individuals who'd give $1,000, and on and on. In the 2000 campaign, G.W. Bush raised more than $94 million, with $91 million coming from individual receipts. G.W. also relied, as noted in the article, on his dad's preexisting network of donors. The Bush family Christmas cared list mentioned in the article includes 35,000 contributors.

The amount needed to win the nomination seems to double every four years, so there is an extra intensity to fundraising this year. Candidates who want to be taken a seriously will need at least $100,000 to establish a viable bid for the nomination.
As this Washington Post article points out, the $100,000 entry fee for 2008 is being established by the record amounts raised by G.W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004 ($274 and $252 million, respectively). Also key is the fundraising power of Hillary Clinton, who is expected to raise the money stakes for both major parties heading into 2008.

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