Friday, May 10, 2002

Bush visit could give Taft $1M

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — When President Bush leaves town this afternoon, Gov. Bob Taft hopes to add more than $1 million to his re-election campaign.

        To make sure, though, Mr. Taft's campaign has asked Republican loyalists to recruit donors for the fund-raiser at a downtown hotel. Their goal is to sell as many tables of 10, at $2,500 or $1,000 a seat, as they can.

        The list of “presidential event chairs” is impressive: Canton steelmaker W.R. Timken Jr., the Limited chairman Leslie Wexner, basket manufacturer Tami Longaberger, credit-card magnate and Cleveland Browns owner Al Lerner, and insurance executive and Cincinnati Reds owner Carl Lindner, among others.

        Together, the 13 chairs contributed at least $619,175 to Ohio candidates, parties and political- action committees in 1999-2000, according to a review of campaign finance reports by the watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action.

        Finding people to pay thousands of dollars to mingle with Mr. Bush and Mr. Taft was not too difficult, said Thomas Noe, one of the chairs. Mr. Noe is a rare-coin trader in Maumee and member of the Ohio Board of Regents.

        “Seeing people's interest in it, it was a very easy sell. There's a lot of excitement about having lunch with the president,” he said.

        Those who raise at least $25,000 can get their picture taken with Mr. Bush, while those who sell $10,000 worth of seats get to pose with Mr. Taft. Donors of $2,500 get to attend a reception with Mr. Taft and his wife, Hope, and $1,000 contributors can attend the luncheon.

        The proceeds go to Mr. Taft's campaign. The $2,500 per-person limit means any cash raised will be “hard money” that can be spent directly by the candidate's campaign.

        The chairs are a valuable link to donors, big and small, Taft campaign spokesman Orest Holubec said. “They're the leaders in our fund-raising strategy. They reach out to Gov. Taft's supporters and remind them of the importance of having another four years of solid leadership.”

        Mr. Taft's campaign reported $6.1 million on hand as of April 17, while Democratic opponent Tim Hagan had $146,686. Mr. Hagan's fund-raisers pegged the current figure at $450,000 to $500,000.

        Citizen Action's Catherine Turcer questioned the need for such a big fund-raiser when Mr. Taft's cash advantage is nearly 42-1.

        “At what point does this become complete and total overkill?” she said. “... What's going to happen to this money?”


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