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Pioneering campaigners make cash flow for Bush

The presidential candidate will meet these Florida fundraisers, those who raise at least $100,000, at the state GOP convention.

By TIM NICKENS Times Political Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 8, 1999

Florida Republicans, without a straw poll or favorable primary date, remain players in presidential politics by bringing something else to the table.


Front-runner George W. Bush will drop by the state GOP convention this evening in Orlando not just as a favor to his younger brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. He also will visit with the Pioneers, his nickname for fundraisers who have steered at least $100,000 into his campaign for president.

The Texas governor is likely to shake hands with more Pioneers at the Omni Rosen Hotel than at any other place outside his home state. Florida has a dozen members of the exclusive club; Texas has 61.

"Not bad, is it?" Al Hoffman, the Fort Myers developer, Bush state finance chairman and Pioneer, asked Thursday. "That list probably should be bigger. There are other people who are raising money for which other people are getting credit."

Among the Florida Pioneers are some familiar names in politics and GOP fundraising: former Gov. Bob Martinez, developer Al Austin of Tampa and Fort Lauderdale cardiologist Zachariah P. Zachariah.

Others are less likely to jump off the page but are linked to some of the biggest players in Florida business. Two are tied to CSX Corp., the giant railroad company in Jacksonville. Two are linked to Wayne Huizenga, the Miami Dolphins owner. U.S. Sugar Corp. and J.M. Family Enterprises, parent company of the nation's largest Toyota distributor, also are represented.

All of those businesses have interests in issues before Congress and the president. CSX Corp., Huizenga Holdings and JM Family Enterprises also are among the biggest Republican donors of soft money, the unlimited contributions that flow into political parties.

Becoming a Bush Pioneer is tougher than writing a large check. The $100,000 has to be raised in increments no larger than $1,000, the federal limit on contributions to individual campaigns.

"It is never easy. You just have to stay with it," said Jorge Arrizurieta, a Pioneer and vice president of public affairs for Huizenga Holdings Inc.

He said Huizenga's absence from the Pioneer list is misleading. "We're all one family," Arrizurieta said. "I can assure you his handprints are all over it."

The Pioneers have helped raise more than $3.6-million in Florida, which Hoffman and others say is a record for a presidential candidate in the state. The Bush campaign says a report to be filed with the Federal Election Commission next week will show a record $56-million overall was raised by the end of September.

The fundraising isn't over in Florida, either. Bush won't raise money today, but he will Nov. 8 when he travels to Jacksonville and Orlando. Another swing through Palm Beach and Miami also is possible before the end of the year.

With the Pioneers, Bush has employed a technique more often associated with political parties. The parties have long given specific levels of fundraisers names and rewards for meeting their goals.

"It is probably the biggest single factor as to why he has been able to raise all of that money," said Larry Makinson, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, the non-profit, non-partisan research organization that tracks money in politics. "This is going to be the "A' list of people in the receiving line at the inauguration -- with a double-entendre on "receiving.' "

Florida Pioneers said they expect no special favors if Bush follows in his father's footsteps and is elected president next year.

"Just good government, good free market principles," said Marty Fiorentino, a former CSX employee in Jacksonville and now special counsel.

What will Pioneers receive?

A pin, special Bush campaign meetings and better spots at the national Republican convention next year in Philadelphia.

"This is sort of recognizing the people who made it happen," said Austin, who also is the state GOP finance chairman. "It gives you a little more motivation to keep doing it."

Fiorentino said behind him and CSX vice chairman A.R. "Pete" Carpenter, another Pioneer, is a large network of Jacksonville-area Bush supporters. He recalled a meeting last spring of more than 50 members of a finance team that includes Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney and state House Speaker John Thrasher of nearby Orange Park. They listened to Bush talk by speaker phone from Texas.

"Even on the speaker phone you get the feeling this is somebody I want to support, who can lead and lead effectively," said Fiorentino, who shares the fundraising credit. "It couldn't have been done without that team."

He and others attribute their fundraising success to Bush's popularity, eagerness among Republicans to take back the White House after eight years of Bill Clinton and the popularity of Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Florida governor, who is his brother's state campaign chairman, recruited Hoffman, Austin and others for the fundraising effort. He is not listed as a Pioneer, although Michigan Gov. John Engler and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld are. "It's for the same reason George W. is not on there; he is part of the family," Hoffman said. "He is very participatory in where and how all of this money is to be raised. He calls all of the shots."

-- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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