Jeb Bush's allies are setting a fundraising goal of $100 million in the first three months of this year—including a whopping $25 million haul in Florida—in an effort to winnow the potential Republican presidential primary field with an audacious display of financial strength.
The targets were confirmed by multiple Republican sources involved in finance meetings with Bush's team. They requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. One said the point is to persuade some establishment candidates to stay on the sidelines in the 2016 race.
The attempt to intimidate the wide-open field with a shock-and-awe fundraising machine echoes the strategy Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, used to win the White House in 2000. In 1999, then-Texas Governor Bush raised $37 million in the first half of the year and $29 million in the third quarter, breaking records and pressuring other contenders, such as Elizabeth Dole, Dan Quayle, John Kasich, and Lamar Alexander, to end their campaigns swiftly or decide not to start one.
Even coming close to the $100 million goal would send a similar message to Jeb Bush's potential rivals, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, and would have the added benefit of locking up some of the party's most formidable fundraisers and donors.
Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said the former Florida governor's internal documents show different targets. "These alleged goals are not accurate," Campbell said, declining to elaborate on the differences. "Governor Bush has not had a political organization until now. He is just in the initial days of reaching out to people and making plans to support conservative causes and conservative candidates in the coming months."
The sources said the goals are being featured in presentations the nascent Bush operation to donors in Florida, Texas, and New York.
Bush will kick off the Florida effort next week with a fundraiser at the Orlando-area home of C. David Brown, a corporate and government transactions attorney who was Bush's choice for state transportation commissioner in 2000. The event is expected to raise at least $1 million, as are other events scheduled or being planned for Tampa, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and Palm Beach, Republican sources said.
The gathering in Orlando highlights Bush's early advantages as he weighs whether to run for president. The brother of one former president and son of another, he has a nationwide fundraising network that his family assembled over decades.
Brown, the Orlando event host, was a top fundraiser for George W. Bush's two presidential campaigns. Jeb Bush, who was Florida's governor from 1999 to 2007, remains popular in his home state, which is traditionally one of the largest sources of cash for presidential candidates. In the 2012 election, White House contenders—mostly Republicans—collected $50 million in Florida, making it the fourth most generous state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political giving.
Bush launched a pair of fundraising committees earlier this week, including one that can collect unlimited donations, and has been meeting with donors for several weeks. Heather Larrison, the National Republican Senatorial Committee finance director for last year's election and head of former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's leadership PAC, is overseeing the national fundraising operations. Ann Herberger, Bush's former Florida finance director and a consultant for Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign, will be deeply involved.
This week, Bush visited with financial backers from KKR and Bridgewater Associates, a pair of New York-based investment firms, and held a fundraiser Wednesday in Greenwich, Conn. He's also met with contributors in Miami, Chicago and Dallas, and will return to Texas later this month for what one donor characterized as an organizational meeting. On Friday, Bush is expected to travel to Boston for more meetings before returning to Miami.
Jack Oliver, former President George W. Bush's 2004 finance director, told Bloomberg Politics last month that Republican primary candidates will need to have raised $100 million by the end of 2015; Bush's allies aim to hit that target in a single quarter. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is considering running for president, told the Washington Times that he hopes to raise at least $25 million by the first week of February.
Christie is a proven fundraiser, raising a record $106 million in his two years as head of the Republican Governors Association, but he has complications as a sitting governor. The Securities and Exchange Commission rules prohibit some of Wall Street's biggest donors from giving money to governors.
Bush, out of office for eight years, has no such problem.