A McCain Money Bash

Presumptive GOP Nominee Now Consolidating Lobbyists’ Support

Posted April 4, 2008 at 6:04pm

Lobbyists looking to make inroads into Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) presidential campaign are helping plan his first Washington-area fundraiser since becoming the presumptive Republican nominee.

The quickly thrown together fundraiser will be Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Willard Hotel and is expected to raise about $400,000. This is an opportunity for lobbyists who had been supporting former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bids to play a more active role in McCain’s

fundraising operation. The $1,000-per- person, $2,300-per-PAC event will feature McCain hours after he is expected to headline an Armed Services Committee hearing with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus.

The fundraiser is part of a larger reorganization the campaign is undergoing to ready itself for the general election. Almost a month in the works, the campaign is in the process of combining the Republican National Committee’s Victory Fund and McCain’s campaign fundraising operation under one umbrella, rebranding it McCain Victory ’08.

The new venture will mean that the campaign will be looking for donors to contribute to the RNC at times because of the higher contribution limits, said Charlie Black, who left the firm BKSH & Associates to go full time as a campaign adviser last month.

Similarly, lobbyists said that they expect the RNC to play a larger role than it did during the last two presidential races, in part because McCain has kept such a lean campaign staff and also because voter outreach is expected to play a larger role in the 2008 presidential election.

“At the end of the day, the election will be about candidate preference and who gets out the vote,” said Kirk Blalock, of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, who heads up McCain’s young professionals fundraising operation. “The RNC is the one who does the get-out-the-vote programs. Whether it’s John McCain or John Sununu, the RNC role in getting people out to vote is more critical in this election than it has been in previous elections.”

In addition, McCain’s campaign sent out a letter to supporters at the end of March detailing his plan for bundlers, which will be similar to President Bush’s Pioneer and Ranger program. For McCain, people who raise $250,000 will be “Innovators” and those who bundle $100,000 will be “Trailblazers.” To be a member of the young professionals group, McCain is asking for at least $50,000 in contributions.

Many of the 40 lobbyists who are serving as co-chairs for the Tuesday event, which is expected to be his only Washington-area fundraiser until the annual RNC gala in May, have been with McCain since the beginning. For instance, Charlie Black and his wife, Judy; former McCain aide Rob Chamberlin, now at McBee Strategic Consulting; Juleanna Glover of the Ashcroft Group; Arizona-based lobbyist Robbie Aiken and telecom lobbyists Walter McCormick and Tim McKone all have signed on to bring at least $10,000 in contributions for the event. Keith Nahigian and his brother Ken, both of Nahigian Strategies, have been traveling with McCain and also have signed on as co-chairs.

McCain, who has denounced influence-peddling and big money, has seen a surge of support recently from Republican lobbyists. While many took time off after candidates they backed dropped out, they now are trying to gain traction within the McCain operation.

Two high-profile Giuliani and Romney supporters have signed on as co-chairs of the event. National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors head Dirk Van Dongen, who had been running Giuliani’s money operation, and Benjamin Ginsberg of Patton Boggs, who had been Romney’s lead outside counsel, both are expecting to raise at least $10,000 for the event.

“I knew that I was going to support the nominee,” said Ginsberg, who is serving as co-chair for the event after a couple of months off from the trail. “I’m more than happy to help, whether it’s doing legal work or licking stamps.”

Former Virginia Sen. George Allen, who was considering a potential GOP presidential run before losing his Senate race in 2006, also has gotten on board for McCain. Allen originally supported former Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) presidential bid. He now is co-chair of the event and has also done outreach in Virginia on behalf of McCain.

Still, some lobbyists who had been visible with other Republican presidential campaigns have yet to play as visible of a role.

“It’s a letdown after your guy loses,” said Alexander Annett of Patton Boggs, who leads Romney’s young professionals program. “People are just giving a little time to recuperate. We are going to be there for [McCain]. We have to lick our wounds for a while.”

Other downtown advisers who played roles in either Giuliani or Romney’s campaigns might remain on the sidelines. For example, former New York Republican Reps. Susan Molinari of the Washington Group and her husband, Bill Paxon, of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, led the charge for Giuliani in part because of their strong ties to the Empire State. Neither has yet played a large role for McCain.

Fundraisers for McCain are confident that their GOP colleagues will get behind McCain, even if some have fatigue in asking people in their Rolodex to cough up a contribution.

“Everybody is truly closing ranks, and I think given some of the issues on the Democratic side, people are even more enthusiastic,” said David Lugar, of Quinn Gillespie & Associates, who had been supporting Thompson’s presidential bid.