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bu$h's Haves and Have Mores Feeling the Pinch

Tax-cut kick backs from the rich have bottomed out . . .

"I really wanted to be a Pioneer or a Ranger; that's what I worked my butt off to do,'' Mr. Bialosky said. "I don't have an endless pot of money to commit to political events. But I didn't want to go there and not participate in the Pioneer and Ranger stuff. That felt horrible.''
August 8, 2004

Republican Donors Are Paying to Play at the Convention

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 - Lunch at the Plaza Hotel. Dinner at Le Cirque. Cocktails at the New York Stock Exchange. That's the least the Republican Party could do to welcome its top fund-raisers to the convention in New York this month. Right?

Yes, but there's just one catch. They have to pay for it.

These supporters - some of whom have raised $200,000 or more for President Bush or the party - are being charged a "convention fee'' this year of up to $4,500 per person for themselves and each guest, according to a Web page run by LogiCom Project Management, the company handling the events and travel arrangements.

That's just for starters. The fund-raisers will also pay for airfare, several nights in a hotel and optional events they might choose - like a fashion show at Barneys or the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The result is that a couple could easily run up a tab of well over $10,000.

"A lot of us looked at that thing and said, whoa!'' said Bruce Bialosky of California, who raised $100,000 to become a Pioneer fund-raiser. He estimates that the convention will cost him and his family $15,000. "A lot of people just can't afford that.''

Republican officials say the fees have risen this year - they topped out at $1,750 in 2000 - because of the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which eliminated the unlimited so-called soft money contributions that used to make up a large part of the party's finances and were traditionally used to pay for convention events. Now operating on a leaner budget, the Republican Party chose to pass the costs on to those attending the convention rather than spend cash that could be used to support President Bush in the election.

"We want to use our hard money resources in the smartest way possible,'' said Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. "When we win, everyone will appreciate that we marshaled our resources to support a victory.''

The fees might have been considered a contribution if collected by the national committee, so officials instead hired LogiCom to collect the money and run the events.

While Democratic fund-raisers got into parties free during their national convention in Boston, some Republicans - even the most well off - are experiencing sticker shock. A few said they called campaign officials to complain. Others are looking into leaving their spouses behind, sharing hotel rooms or taking other measures to cut costs. Almost all said they have heard grumbling from their friends in fund-raising circles.

"The price of playing the game has risen dramatically,'' said Fred Zeidman, a Texas fund-raiser who has brought in at least $200,000. "I don't think anybody is happy about writing the check. But it's a cost of doing business.''

The Bush campaign is famously frugal, sometimes serving hot dogs and other plain fare at fund-raising events. As Shawn Steel, a California fund-raiser who has brought in $200,000 together with his wife, joked, "These are about the stingiest bunch of guys I've ever seen.''

At the same time, Mr. Steel and many other fund-raisers, including Mr. Bialosky and Mr. Zeidman, said they understood the need for the charges. "I don't blame them," Mr. Bialosky said. "They didn't have a choice. They are not trying to stick it to us, there are costs to these things."

Political conventions are often seen as a way to thank fund-raisers for months of collecting large checks - and to get them to raise more before Election Day in November.

To some, the pricing structure itself may seem unfair because the biggest fund-raisers, instead of being rewarded for their success, are expected to fork over even more money to attend the events.

Mr. Bush's Rangers, who each raised at least $200,000 for the campaign, are being asked to pay $4,500; Pioneers, who raised at least $100,000, are being asked for $4,000; Mavericks, the under-40 fund-raisers who gathered at least $50,000, are being asked to pay $3,650. Several other packages cost less, according to the LogiCom site.

Fund-raisers at all three levels are being invited to a concert at Lincoln Center featuring the singer Linda Eder, a finance committee lunch at the Plaza Hotel (complete with breakout sessions afterward), receptions at Tavern on the Green and the New York Stock Exchange, and a farewell party at Cipriani's on the last day of the convention.

There are also some special perks.

Rangers, for example, get a lunch at Sotheby's and the opportunity to stay at the Ritz-Carlton, but rooms costing $475 to $700 a night are already sold out, according to the site. What is left in a block of rooms reserved for donors starts at $850, with suites beginning at $2,000 - and there is a five-night minimum.

Officials at LogiCom declined to comment on the events or the costs, referring calls to the Republican National Committee. Ms. Iverson, the committee spokeswoman, declined to say how much the events cost to organize in total or the terms of the LogiCom contract.

Of course, fund-raisers do not have to attend special parties, nor do they have to stay at fancy hotels. There are more than enough events that cost little or nothing.

But some Republicans say the fun of a convention is mixing with fellow fund-raisers, many of whom are friends from other states they have been working with for months, whether it is in the convention hall, in hotel hospitality suites or at parties given especially for them.

So it was for Mr. Bialosky, who found economical airfares, opted for cheaper accommodations and chose a cheaper package of events in order to trim costs so he could attend with his wife and his two teenage children.

"I really wanted to be a Pioneer or a Ranger; that's what I worked my butt off to do,'' Mr. Bialosky said. "I don't have an endless pot of money to commit to political events. But I didn't want to go there and not participate in the Pioneer and Ranger stuff. That felt horrible.''

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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