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Access Already For Sale At Conventions

Sat., Aug. 10, 1996

On the waterfront with Bob Dole. At Planet Hollywood with martial-arts actor Chuck Norris. At Sea World with Shamu (the whale) and Newt (the speaker).

From the moment the Republican National Convention opens, party officials will be raising money and catering to those who have provided five- and six-figure contributions. Democrats will do the same later this month in Chicago.

Consider these conventions the Superbowl of political fund raising.

The most generous givers are seated center stage at posh events to rub elbows with the country’s leaders, meet rising stars and of course get further opportunities to express their support in cash.

“They have turned into non-stop fund-raising events, fests for the rich and interested, rather than just opportunities for the delegates to have a say in who gets nominated,” says Ellen Miller, director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which studies political financing.

Even when formal fund-raising events aren’t scheduled, there’ll still be plenty of chances for candidates to meet the GOP’s golden wallets.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has one such event planned for Wednesday - an invitation-only luncheon for donors and the Republican challengers in fall races.

Among those scheduled to attend is Montana’s Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Rehberg, who is challenging Sen. Max Baucus this fall.

“We want him to meet all those $10,000 contributors,” said Rehberg’s political consultant, Eddie Mahe, who said he doesn’t expect Rehberg to walk away with any big checks.

“That is really not the goal. It is to make contacts and then send them all the packages and then have Denny get each one of them on the phone on a follow-up and ask for the check because they would then have met him and heard him speak,” Mahe explained.

Fund-raisers say the promise of VIP treatment at the conventions is an important tool that attracts donors early in the election cycle.

The GOP’s Eagles Club donors, who gave at least $10,000, and the Team 100 donors, who gave at least $100,000, will have access to special lounges during the convention, luxury sky box seats at the convention hall and invitations to an outdoor gala at a waterfront park with Dole.

There are plenty of other enticing rewards: a VIP bus tour to the Nixon presidential library, two golf tournaments and receptions galore at art museums, aquariums and parks.

“This (convention) is a fulfillment for a lot of people … who’ve already given for this year,” RNC spokeswoman Mary Crawford said.

And while these events are billed as appreciation events, donors are certain to hear new fund-raising pitches.

The Wednesday gala - with tickets starting at $1,000 - is the RNC’s only official convention fund-raiser. But candidates, congressional committees and the state and local GOP have dozens more planned.

The San Diego GOP is hosting a party-until-the-lights-go-out Saturday at Planet Hollywood, where actor Norris, former vice president Dan Quayle and California Gov. Pete Wilson are among those promised to be on hand. The rock band The Amendments, comprised of five congressmen, is the featured entertainment for an event that will leave goers $500 lighter.

State party chairman John S. Herrington said the California GOP hopes to raise $500,000 from two events: a private “victory” train ride down the California coast Saturday featuring Gingrich, and a beach party Sunday where aging rocker Frankie Avalon and the 1960s duo Jan & Dean will sing. Tickets for the train ride went for as much as $5,000 apiece.

And the House speaker, an animal lover, will be the main draw again Sunday at a “Salute to Newt Gingrich” fund-raiser at Sea World. The event is to raise money for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Not to worry though, the Democrats won’t be upstaged when their convention opens in Chicago two weeks later.

“Each night we’re hosting a reception or dinner for donors and candidates and senators,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Stephanie Cohen said.

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