Big GOP Donors Get Convention Perks

Thursday, July 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fishing with House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Cocktails with retired Gen. Colin Powell. Golf with a senator. Ringside drinks with former boxing champion Larry Holmes or an afternoon with race driver Bobby Labonte.

For those who have donated five- and six-figure checks to the Republican Party, the nominating convention in Philadelphia next week is an extravaganza worthy of ``Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.''

There'll be cocktail parties galore, luxury skyboxes to watch the convention goings-on and countless events offering the lure of casual access to Washington's power brokers.

The attraction is ``going to events that are not boring cocktail events in nondescript locations but events that give them a feel for the city and our rich history and our culture,'' said Martin J. Silverstein, a Philadelphia lawyer and GOP donor.

Silverstein, who is one of George W. Bush's $100,000-plus fund-raising pioneers, will be host for a dinner at his home for GOP senators and donors who have given at least $10,000 to GOP Senate candidates. He also has a list of events he wants to attend.

``The convention itself is great for fund raising and getting people to give in the months leading up to it,'' said Stuart Roy of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

``But probably larger than that is the opportunity for our candidates to meet directly with donors who can give them the resources they will need in the fall,'' he said.

For both parties, the nominating conventions represent a sort of Super Bowl of fund raising. The parties advertise perks such as premium seating, skyboxes, private lunches with leaders and hospitality suites months in advance in hopes of luring big donations.

Donors ``will be treated to a special weeklong VIP program,'' the Republican National Committee promised in a letter in the spring, ``so please use the enclosed reply envelop to send in your renewal contribution.''

Those who oblige usually have business before the government and relish the opportunity to play golf and tennis with senators or send their lobbyists to make connections in a luxury skybox where Republican dignitaries will visit.

For instance, political action committees that have donated at least $15,000 to the Republican National Committee's Majority Fund were promised access to a hospitality suite and ``Chairman's Skybox'' frequented by Republican officials each night of the convention.

And members of the RNC's Team 100, who have given or raised at least $100,000, have more than two dozen perks and events to choose from, according to letters sent to the donors.

They get to have dinner their first night with Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other congressional leaders at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The next day, there's breakfast at Philadelphia City Hall with strategists from George W. Bush's campaign, a fashion show at the Academy of Music and a cocktail reception with GOP members of Congress.

If those events prove too stuffy, Day No. 3 offers country club golf with senators, congressmen, governors and former Cabinet members.

And donors who fork over an additional $1,000 can have dinner at the fund-raising gala on Aug. 2 with nominee George W. Bush and his wife, capped off at night with a private reception with GOP governors.

To round out the experience, the six-figure donors get a brunch on the last day with former presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford.

Those who raise or donated at least $200,000 to the GOP fund-raising arm for Senate candidates were promised more than a dozen perks ranging from ``premier hotel accommodations'' to 10 tickets to an event with Republican leaders.

The big Senate donors will be treated to a ``Main Event Fight Night'' — a boxing-themed reception complete with a mock fight ring — that will let them have drinks, get autographs and take photos with former heavyweight champions Holmes and Michael Spinks and current light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr.

They'll also get to sit in race cars on display at Philadelphia's old Naval Shipyard and mingle with 10 racing figures, including Labonte, a top NASCAR racer, and former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, a racing team owner.

Lawmakers and administration officials will be reminded frequently of donors' goodwill with ``signage at appropriate NRSC hosted events'' and ``recognition in NRSC convention literature,'' donor letters promise.

Every major fund-raising arm of the Republican Party has a detailed program to entertain and reward its big donors — and introduce them to new candidates.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which raises funds for House candidates, has a ``meet and greet'' for their candidates to introduce themselves to donors. The senatorial arm also has a cruise lined up aboard the Liberty Belle for donors and candidates.

Donors also can participate in a predawn fishing tournament at Valley Forge with Hastert or play golf at swank country clubs with Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles or House Majority Whip Tom DeLay.

And members of the RNC's ``Chairman's Advisory Board'' who donated at least $5,000 have been promised a reception with Republican war veterans, including Powell, Sens. John McCain and Chuck Hagel and Capt. Scott O'Grady, the pilot shot down and rescued in the Balkans conflict.