Monday, June 21, 2004

Shake hands, leave check


$25K will get you into Bush party

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - So you're a big fan of President Bush, but you didn't get an invitation to tonight's fund-raiser with him in Indian Hill?

You're in good company.

The $25,000-a-couple event at investor Bill DeWitt's house is so exclusive that not even the Bush campaign's southwest Ohio chairman, prosecutor Mike Allen, or county chairman Greg Hartmann were invited.

"They know I don't have that kind of money," Hartmann said.

Bush will also stop at Cincinnati's Talbert House to discuss his $1.2 billion program to promote marriage in poor communities.

Guests and organizers estimate about 80 couples will attend the fund-raiser, generating about $2 million for a special Republican Party fund that will be used in battleground states like Ohio.

Ron Beshear, a Montgomery insurance and investment executive, called the fund-raiser a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"To me, this is the most important election in my lifetime. If I was ever going to step up to plate it's now," said Beshear, who has raised $100,000 by collecting checks from others for the re-election.

"For this level, it probably takes somebody that's really into the mission - not somebody who's just going to go to a social event," he said.

Douglass Corn of Bridgetown, who has raised $200,000 for the Bush campaign, said he'll attend with his wife, Ronda.

"I think it's imperative he be re-elected for the good of the country. The jobs are growing; inflation's very low; the Iraq situation is turning around and will continue to turn around," he said. "The future for my children is really why I got involved," said the father of three girls.

For Bush supporters looking to pay nothing, an estimated 12,000 attended a rally in May at Cincinnati Gardens. For those willing to pay $2,000, Carl Lindner III's fund-raiser in September attracted about 900 people.

But this one will be more personal, Beshear said.

"The payoff for people who go to an event like this is, it's fewer people, and the president probably feels the liberty to take the time to really give a deeper explanation on all the things that are really going on," Beshear said.

Cinergy Chief Executive Jim Rogers also has written his $25,000 check.

"He's supportive of the president's policies, and he wants to see him re-elected," Cinergy spokesman Steve Brash said.

Ohio GOP chairman Bob Bennett, who gets to go for free, said selling tickets for this type of fund-raiser is actually easier.

"Your universe is a little bit more limited," he said.

"There's a limited number of people that write big checks. It's most of your entrepreneurs and business people that support the Republican philosophy."

Bush opponents plan to capitalize on the event's exclusiveness. The Media Fund, an anti-Bush group, plans to air radio ads today in Cincinnati highlighting the difference between average Ohioans and those at the fund-raiser. The Media Fund plans to raise $100 million for ads to air in 17 battleground states.

"The economy may be fine for the people at your fund-raiser. But the real way to help families in Ohio is to create the kind of jobs that pay a decent wage and provide real health care," reads the ad's transcript, set to the sounds of factories shutting down. "Mr. Bush, by tonight you'll be on your way home. Our jobs will still be on their way overseas."

State AFL-CIO President Bill Burga called the $25,000 donations outrageous.

"If individuals have that kind of money, it's obviously on the Republican side and not the Democratic side," he said.

"That's an obscene figure for a contribution."

But a Cincinnati fund-raiser for John Kerry this past week included $25,000 donations for the Democratic Party. Donors can give $2,000 per election to a presidential campaign, but $25,000 to a party.

The $2 million expected to be raised would put tonight's event in the top quarter of the 32 fund-raisers on behalf of Victory 2004, the Republican National Committee's fund-raising program.

RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson said she didn't know how many invitations went out. Officially, the money is separate from the more than $200 million raised already for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

"The money raised at this event will be used to help elect Republicans from the statehouse to the White House," she said. "It's money that's used to help get out the vote."

Cincinnati has been a font of money for the Bush campaign. Fifteen major fund-raisers live in the Tristate - not counting Mercer Reynolds, who oversees the party's presidential campaign fund-raising.

The Indian Hill ZIP code ranks fourth nationwide in donations to the Bush re-election.

The usual quartet of big-time Cincinnati Bush fund-raisers, as well as their wives, are chairmen of today's event: DeWitt, Reynolds, Cintas founder Dick Farmer, and Reds owner Carl Lindner.

The Bush visit brings to an end a week in which Kerry, Vice President Dick Cheney, and first lady Laura Bush campaigned or raised money in Ohio, a state considered key to the November election.

Gov. Bob Taft, who chairs Bush's re-election campaign in Ohio, also will attend the fund-raiser, though he doesn't have to pay the $25,000.

"He gets a free dinner," said Taft's fund-raising consultant, Brian Hicks.

Exactly what the dinner is remained a mystery.

The Republican National Committee wouldn't divulge the menu, nor would DeWitt, and guests said they didn't know.

"I'm sure it's something that will be carb light," Beshear said. "Everybody seems to be on Atkins."

Where the money goes

The 2004 Joint State Victory Committee will raise and spend money in 16 battleground states.

The states:

Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Source: Federal Election Commission filings

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E-mail cweiser@gannett.com




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