Alliances splinter in fundraising for presidential race

Many who backed Bush are on the sidelines. Some who helped Bill Clinton go elsewhere.

Published April 22, 2007

WASHINGTON - The two most dominant political fundraising networks of the past quarter-century have splintered during the wide-open 2008 presidential race, newly released campaign finance records show.

Large numbers of the Rangers and Pioneers who fueled President Bush's campaign machinery are staying on the sidelines for now, while many of President Bill Clinton's biggest donors and fundraisers have migrated away from the campaign of his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Hundreds are hedging their bets by donating to multiple candidates.

Bush expanded a network started by his father, adding a touch of Texas bravado and a strong appeal to religious conservatives, and bestowing the titles of Pioneer on those who raised $100,000 and Ranger on those who collected $200,000.

The migration of these big-time Republican bundlers out of presidential politics, at least for now, may help explain the anemic first quarter, compared with that of Democrats, posted by the party's White House hopefuls. Democratic contenders finished March with $76.4-million on hand, compared with $30.7-million for their Republican counterparts.

Not all of the Republican fundraisers have remained neutral. Rangers and Pioneers who have donated money were split among the three leading GOP contenders. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney received $209,450 from 97 of them; Sen. John McCain, Ariz., took in $183,125 from 80; and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani collected $159,494 from 55, an analysis of campaign reports showed.

On the Democratic side, loyalties also have been divided.

Bill Clinton created and expanded a Democratic fundraising machine to rival that of Republicans, using his youthful appeal in 1992 to lure many first-time donors and fundraisers to the party. Loyalty was then fostered by an aggressive "donor maintenance" program that rewarded top givers with such perks as overnight stays in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom and coffee klatches with administration officials or even the president himself.

"Bill Clinton was our Democrat, and there weren't many choices back then. But now people are finding there are other very interesting people doing and saying things on the Democratic side that are worthwhile to support,"' said Matthew Gohd, an investment banker whose fundraising in the 1990s earned him a White House visit with Clinton. He has defected to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Hillary Rodham Clinton still has the loyalty of many major players from her husband's network, including chief fundraiser Terence R. McAuliffe,

But dozens of donors have migrated. Some cite fatigue after years of raising money for the Clintons.

Most, though, blame the defections on the enthusiasm generated by the upstart campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Kirk Dornbush, a veteran Atlanta fundraiser, said Obama has created an excitement unseen since that surrounding Bill Clinton in 1992.