'Pioneers' Paved Bush's Way With Big Dollars
Tuesday 6 May 2003
Some of the lobbyists and corporate executives who funded President Bush's campaign agreed to raise at least $250,000 apiece, much more than the previously reported goal of $100,000, according to campaign documents.
The documents, released as part of litigation over the nation's new campaign-finance law, show that the Bush campaign's financial appetite made the contribution limit of $1,000 look like little more than a formality.
Although no individual could legally give more than $1,000, the campaign circulated pledge sheets inviting donors to raise $250,000 from their friends and subordinates, then tracked the results with a computer code so the donor would get credit for all the checks.
Those who raised $100,000 were recognized as Pioneers, but the campaign documents show that there was a previously undisclosed class of donor who raised as much as $600,000. When the Pioneer program was created by Bush's presidential exploratory campaign in 1999, the announced goal for members was $100,000, although the campaign always made it clear that they could raise more.
In fact, they were encouraged to do so. The pledge form from the finance committee of the George W. Bush Presidential Exploratory Committee Inc. had an "I pledge to raise" section ranging from $25,000 to $250,000.
Republican officials said the campaign made no distinction between the premium Pioneers and the regular ones.
One enthusiastic telemarketing executive was not content with the choices on the form and wrote "$5.75 million" in bold letters, although there is no indication he raised that much. At least 26 supporters promised to raise $250,000, one wrote in $500,000 and two pledged $1 million. Many of them fell short.
The form asked donors to give a target date for completing the goal. A corner of the form included a four-digit number that the campaign used to track the contributions on spreadsheets. "Remember, your Solicitor Tracking Number is your personal tracking number for money that you raise," the form said. "Please place this number on any check that you solicit."
The campaign also tracked contributions by industry, and Democrats have asserted that the system was set up to expedite reward and punishment. Jack Oliver, the campaign's national finance director, said in a deposition during the campaign-finance litigation that the number was used to prevent disputes over who had raised what.
"The Pioneer system itself, the tracking method was effective because people didn't fight over things like they usually did," said Oliver, now the deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Targeted solicitations were made to airline, association and utility executives and Bush's class at Harvard Business School, according to the documents. Some of the letters used campaign stationery, but Oliver said the solicitations were from individual Bush supporters and not the campaign. "We wanted to reach out as broadly as humanly possible, to touch as many different segments of America as we could," Oliver said in the deposition.
Pioneers were given briefings on confidential polling data and were feted at a reception at the Republican National Convention. Since Bush took office, at least 19 have been named ambassadors.
The documents, which were first reported by the Dallas Morning News and the New York Times, showed that at least 27 couples had raised $200,000 or more for Bush by the time he had defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2000 primaries, and the money kept rolling in for several more months.
Many of the super-Pioneers were longtime friends of Bush, but others were executives who stood to benefit substantially from his administration. Frederick L. Webber, credited with raising $206,000 through March 15, 2000, was president and chief executive of the American Chemistry Council until seven months ago. The council, which represents chemical manufacturers, promotes the "sound science" approach to environmental regulation that has been a mantra of Bush's administration.
Another of the premium Pioneers was Richard E. Hug of Baltimore, founder and chairman emeritus of Environmental Elements Corp., which makes smokestack scrubbers and other pollution controls. Hug said that Bush's Clear Skies Initiative, which would revise parts of the Clean Air Act and is being considered by Congress, would be "very beneficial" to his company by requiring utilities to upgrade their emission systems, but that it had nothing to do with the $275,000 he raised.
"The Pioneers program really incentivized people to do a great job for the next president," said Hug, who was Bush's Maryland finance chairman. "There wasn't any financial remuneration or anything like that, but it was just being on the team. I can't imagine there's any Pioneer who won't help George W. again."
Hug noted with a chuckle that the Pioneers had to pay extra for the sterling silver cufflinks that served as emblems of their service to the campaign.
Bonnie Tenneriello, staff attorney for the National Voting Rights Initiative, which released the documents, said they show that the campaign-finance system gives "a huge advantage to wealthy individuals who are able to network and effectively aggregate huge amounts."
Her group went to court to argue against the doubling of the money that can be given to a campaign as a direct contribution, known as hard money, to $2,000 under the new campaign finance law Bush signed last year. On Friday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia struck down major provisions of the law, but left in place the higher ceiling for direct contributions to campaigns.
Republican sources said that because of the new limit, Bush's reelection campaign is likely to ask Pioneers to raise at least $200,000.
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