Kerry fund-raisers look to raise millions quickly

Sen. John Kerry points into the crowd during a campaign town hall meeting Wednesday in Orlando, Fla.Jim Bourg / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts will embark on a 20-city fund-raising tour this month in hope of collecting a quick $15 million or more as he reaches for a Democratic record of $105 million, his campaign said Thursday.

That would roughly match the record $106 million that President Bush raised for his 2000 primary campaign and has already surpassed this year. Bush has raised more than $155 million for his re-election bid, with millions more to come.

“It’s a big hill to climb, but we think we can climb it,” said Louis Susman, Kerry’s national finance chairman.

Kerry is the first Democratic nominee-to-be able to raise money before the party’s nominating convention, Susman noted. That is because Kerry opted out of public financing and its $45 million spending limit for the primary season. In the past, the party’s presumptive nominees took the money and emerged from the primary contests close to the cap.

Kickoff in California
Kerry’s fund-raising blitz starts March 29 with a two-day swing through California, including stops in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento, said Peter Maroney, the campaign’s national finance director.

It continues next month with stops in Washington, Chicago, Boston, New York, New Jersey, Miami and New Orleans, with more events in the planning stages. Most fund-raisers will be $1,000- to $2,000-per-ticket events, with those in the biggest cities expected to take in $1 million or more.

Kerry will enlist help for events in smaller cities from surrogates like his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, and two of his former presidential rivals, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

The campaign plans a finance team meeting Monday in Washington to lay out its plans to fund-raising volunteers, members of Kerry’s national finance committee who raise at least $25,000 apiece. Kerry raised about $25 million last year and hopes to take in $80 million more this year.

Democratic fund-raisers from Barbra Streisand to business moguls to trial lawyers are jumping in to help. Streisand has already donated $2,000 to Kerry and is in discussions about what else she can do to best help his campaign, a spokeswoman said.

In Los Angeles, supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle is opening his home for a planned $1 million fund-raiser March 30 that is expected to draw big donors from Hollywood, real estate, banking and labor.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, an executive with the film and record company DreamWorks SKG,  is a co-host of the March 30 event. His DreamWorks partners — Steven Spielberg and David Geffen — have not committed to raising money for Kerry, but they expect to meet with him soon to discuss their involvement, said Andy Spahn, a spokesman for DreamWorks.

Uphill climb against Bush
Kerry faces long odds in trying to narrow the gap against Bush. The Bush-Cheney campaign reported cash on hand of $104 million as of Feb. 1, with no debt, and the president Thursday in California.

In its most recent public report, the Kerry campaign said it had $2.1 million cash on hand as of Feb. 1, with debts of $7.2 million. Fund-raising has improved, and Kerry’s aides said he brought in a record $2 million over the Internet since locking up the Democratic nomination Tuesday. Like another former rival, former Vermont Gov.  Howard Dean, Kerry hopes to attract legions of small-dollar donors through the Internet.

Milwaukee lawyer Robert Habush, former head of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, supported another former candidate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a trial lawyer, but he plans to raise money for Kerry. He expects other lawyers to do the same.

“Considering our president hates us and has taken the trouble to put on his agenda a restriction of patients’ and consumers’ rights, I think it would be very easy to get trial lawyers engaged against President Bush,” Habush said.

Among those lending Kerry a hand is Melvin Weiss, a New York lawyer who stuck to the sidelines until his party settled on its nominee. New York venture capitalist Alan Patricof, a former fund-raiser for Clark, also has begun raising money for Kerry.

Kerry had raised about $24 million from donors as of Feb. 1 and spent nearly every dollar he took in, relying on personal loans of $6.4 million to keep his campaign alive in early January before his string of primary victories. He has not ruled out spending more of his own money, and he is leaving all of his options open, said Michael Meehan, a spokesman for the campaign.

The campaign finance reports of Kerry’s former rivals suggest that there are plenty of big-dollar donors to be tapped. If everyone who gave $2,000 to Kerry’s primary rivals sent that much to Kerry, he would rake in more than $35 million, an analysis by the Political Money Line campaign finance tracking service found.