Campaign 2000: Show Them The Money

A new breed of fund-raiser gears up for the election

Forget campaign-finance reform. With the White House, the House, and possibly even the Senate up for grabs, experts say that more than $3 billion could be spent on the 2000 elections--up from a record $2.2 billion in 1996.

While the bulk of that will be collected by tried-and-true Establishment fund-raisers, a new breed of younger money hunters is rising from the most vibrant sectors of the U.S. economy: high tech, financial services, and entertainment. They reflect the growing political clout of women, minorities, and religious groups--and they understand the key role that technology, and especially the Internet, will play in the quest for cash.

These four fund-raisers aren't in the same league as Republican Georgette Mosbacher or Democrat Terence R. McAuliffe, but they're up-and-comers. Soon you may be fielding their calls or E-mail--if you haven't already.

-- Exposure to politics started early for Nancy E. Pfund. Very early. As a preschooler, Pfund watched her mother, a volunteer for John F. Kennedy, depart for Camelot's inaugural ball dressed in a fancy gown. "It was like a fairy tale," recalls Pfund.

Nowadays, the 43-year-old partner at Hambrecht & Quist Group's venture-capital arm in San Francisco hobnobs with the Silicon Valley elite as a Democratic fund-raiser. Vice-President Al Gore, former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, and California Governor Gray Davis have all benefited from Pfund's ability to squeeze cash from her Rolodex. Says Pfund: In venture capital, "you're investing in potential. You're betting that a company will achieve a certain result in a certain time. There are similarities in backing a candidate."

For the 2000 elections, Pfund says she'll stump for California Senator Dianne Feinstein's reelection bid. For now, she's supporting Gore for President, having co-sponsored his recent Silicon Valley fund-raiser. But she also recently helped put on a Bradley event. "I like both," says Pfund. Like any politician, she's keeping her options open.

-- MySoftware CEO Gregory W. Slayton is rarely without his company baseball cap--free advertising for the Palo Alto purveyor of packaged software for small businesses.

These days, though, Slayton often sports a hat emblazoned with the legend "Silicon Valley Bush 2000," a network of high-tech execs helping to fund George W. Bush's run for the GOP Presidential nomination. In the famously apolitical Valley, Slayton stands out like a Luddite at an E-commerce conference. And he's converting other techies, too.

Slayton, 39, is co-hosting the Valley's mega-events for Bush this year, a June 30 dinner and July 1 breakfast that are expected to pull in more than $1 million. It hasn't exactly been a hard sell. "There are a lot of libertarians here," he says. They share Bush's views on lower taxes and smaller government. According to Slayton, techies, who value results over ideology, also like the fact that Bush has "brought Democrats and Republicans together in a state that used to have blood-and-guts politics."

Slayton does much of his prospecting on the Internet. "It's tough to get people here to go to events because everyone's so busy," he says. "To mobilize people on a large scale, there's nothing like E-mail."

Slayton was a Fulbright scholar at Dartmouth, earned an MBA at Harvard, and started his business career developing a telecom practice for McKinsey & Co. in Buenos Aires. He revived a nearly bankrupt Internet company, ParaGraph International, before being recruited in 1997 to nurse then-ailing MySoftware Co. back to health.

In addition to hitting up pals for GOP causes, Slayton raises money for Opportunity International, a nonprofit group that arranges loans to entrepreneurs in the Third World. In a sense, he's doing the same thing for Bush: arranging an infusion of cash for a Presidential startup.

-- Janice B. Griffin's political epiphany occurred seven years ago while she was watching the Republican National Convention in Houston. Griffin remembers conservative Presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan looking at the camera and declaring: "We're going to take our country back from them," Griffin says, she sat up. "I realized he was talking about me," says Griffin, an African American who was then a Prudential Insurance Co. exec. "Those were fightin' words." (The actual quote from Buchanan was: "We must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country." A Buchanan spokesman says Griffin misinterpreted Buchanan's words.)

Today, Griffin, 50, is one of the top-ranking women on the Democratic National Committee and one of its most important fund-raisers. As head of the Women's Leadership Forum, she runs a network of 30,000 women donors and activists. In the 1996 campaign, the forum pulled in $5.8 million. Griffin's goal for Campaign 2000: raise $6 million and expand the WLF's network to 100,000.

Griffin's leadership is a departure for the WLF, founded in 1993 and dominated by well-heeled white women. But Griffin, who came to Washington in 1988 as a Prudential lobbyist, learned her skills from a pro--the late Ronald H. Brown, former DNC chairman and Commerce Secretary. Brown recruited her to the Democratic cause. "One of the things I bring to the table is a network--or several--that weren't necessarily a part of WLF culture: African-American women, minority businesswomen, women who aren't rich."

A key goal is making small donors feel welcome. Events range from $25-a-head to $10,000-a-head affairs. "I try to do my homework so I know what people can say yes to," says Griffin, a divorced mother of two grown sons who left the Pru earlier this year to set up her own consulting firm.

Griffin can count on firepower from Tipper Gore, the WLF's honorary chairwoman, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The most successful event so far: a Mar. 3 New York dinner hosted by the First Lady that attracted 900 people and raised close to $600,000.

With polls showing Republican front-runner George W. Bush closing the gender gap, Vice-President Al Gore has a lot riding on Griffin's ability to woo women--and their wallets--to the Democratic fold.

-- Amway President Dick DeVos and his wife, Michigan Republican Party chairwoman Betsy DeVos, in May hosted a Potomac River cruise to launch a new fund-raising drive for GOP House conservatives. Many of the guests were heavy hitters from the Religious Right. But when pledge time came, the first to sign up was no churchgoer. It was Jack Abramoff, an Orthodox Jewish lobbyist who is among the right wing's most aggressive fund-raisers.

A onetime movie producer, the 40-year-old Abramoff has close ties to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, who has been a guest of the Abramoffs for Passover seders. "People of faith tend to hold similar political views," says Abramoff, who is with the Washington office of Seattle law firm Preston Gates & Ellis. Like others on the Right, Abramoff opposes stiff gun curbs and decries estate taxes as "morally devoid of content and economically senseless."

This year, Abramoff expects to rake in at least $4 million for GOP candidates, mostly House lawmakers in marginal seats. He'll host some 50 events, often using his personal skyboxes at Camden Yards (home of the Baltimore Orioles) and the MCI Center (home of the Wizards) in downtown Washington.

Abramoff can shake money trees that are off the beaten path for Republicans. One is a growing network of East Coast Orthodox Jews. Indian tribes are another: Abramoff's clients at Preston Gates include the Choctaws of Mississippi and the Chitimachas of Louisiana. Abramoff also turns regularly to a dozen or so film producers.

Abramoff earned his spurs in the radical right at Brandeis University, a liberal bastion. After graduating in 1981, he moved to Washington to chair the College Republican National Committee, earned a law degree at Georgetown, and took up conservative causes.

A chance meeting with a friend who had a grant to make a movie launched Abramoff's film career. He made a handful of action flicks, including Red Scorpion and Karate Masters. A father of five, Abramoff defends his violent flicks: "In my movies, the bad guys got killed."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.