Hard Cash Is Main Course for GOP Fundraiser. Selling of $2,500-a-Plate Tickets Is Laborious but Necessary, Lawmakers Say.
That is what Republican lawmakers have spent months doing in preparation for tonight's President's Dinner, a fundraiser for the party's House and Senate campaign committees that lures well-off donors from across the country to a blue-carpeted hangar-size hall for the chance to hear President Bush speak and to dine on beef tenderloin en croute with 5,500 others.
Because of the new fundraising limits Bush signed into law in 2002, the parties can no longer rely on mega-donors who once gave by the hundreds of thousands. Now much of the money is raised by selling $2,500-a-plate dinner tickets, a laborious process that is consuming an increasing amount of lawmakers' time and creativity.
Party leaders pit the House against the Senate in going after donors, and lawmakers use their tallies as a way to promote themselves for future leadership jobs.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), an obstetrician, had raised $22,500 by last weekend and planned to kick in at least $10,000 from his own campaign account, to get him closer to his goal of $50,000.
"This is the hardest part of being a member, and we all get weary of it," he said. "So much money is spent and sometimes you think, 'Gosh, you know, we need to bring some sanity to this.' But when you've got both sides doing it, it ups the ante."
To pep up the rank and file, Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), the dinner chairman for the House, went before his 230 fellow Republicans this spring in running shorts to urge them to get into the race, then adopted a baseball theme at another meeting to warn them about striking out. Later, he invoked his childhood preacher to tell them about getting the spirit, and compared the dinner to a church building fund.
Kingston, who is also vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, held weekly meetings with his team captains and called members who were not meeting their goals to give them a boost. Kingston, the son of an educational psychologist, said he is using the same formula to motivate members to raise money that he used when he was in his twenties and selling commercial insurance strictly on commission: Make it fun, while warning of what could go wrong.
"Politics is a dangerous world where all the tides ebb and flow real quickly," he said. "We have to raise money to compete in the marketplace."
(6-14-05, The Washington Post.)