Kerry's California Coddling
His campaign lavishes VIP attention on well-connected backers, trying to make them feel more like friends than mere fundraisers.
Beverly Hills producer Daphna Ziman is no ordinary
She and her husband sat with other top fundraisers in a
special skybox for Democratic presidential candidate John
F. Kerry's campaign at the party convention in Boston. They
schmooze with the Kerrys at VIP receptions. At Rosh
Hashana, Ziman said, Kerry called her with best wishes for
peace in her native Israel. She sometimes calls Kerry on
his cellphone â€" just to chat, Ziman said
â€" as he traverses the swing states.
The Zimans belong to a rarefied group of Democratic Party
fundraisers with backstage passes to the Kerry campaign.
They are dealt into weekly conference calls with top party
leaders and given special titles â€" Vice
Chairs, Co-Chairs, Patriots, Trustees â€" based
on how much money they've raised. They jet off to see the
Kerrys at retreats, like a gathering at Teresa Heinz
Kerry's estate near Pittsburgh in August, or a weekend in
Washington, D.C., in early October.
They have helped touch off an avalanche of more than $102
million in political donations from Californians to Kerry,
liberal groups and Democratic Party causes. In the process,
Kerry set a record for raising more money in a single state
than any candidate in any election.
Some fundraisers, like Ziman, display gold-tone brooches
that spell out "Kerry 2004" in faux diamonds. Her husband,
Richard Ziman, chief executive of Arden Realty
â€" and a Kerry backer for nearly 10 years
â€" got a silk tie whose pattern subtly blends
little American flags and "JK '04."
Of course, wealthy Los Angeles fundraisers â€"
like the Zimans, many have entertainment industry
connections â€" don't really need campaign
tchotchkes. They're committed liberals who want President
Bush out of the White House.
But they also want something far more intangible
â€" a level of access and attention to which
fundraisers in Omaha could never aspire.
"The nice thing about John is that he listens. He really
listens to people," Ziman said, sitting on a beige leather
sofa with leopard spotted pillows in her beamed neo-Tudor
Rainmakers like the Zimans have been crucial to the
Democratic Party's ability to match Bush's war chest of
political contributions for the 2004 presidential race
â€" particularly since campaign finance reform
limited the usefulness of individual big-dollar donors.
Their role is heightened in California, where Kerry holds a
commanding lead, and where the fiercest campaign is the
shakedown for money â€" not votes.
"In general, California has been used to raise dollars for
the rest of the country," said Mark Gorenberg, the
Kerry-Edwards California finance chairman. "We're primarily
raising money to fund the ground game or the ear war in the
California fundraising has been "nothing short of amazing,"
Gorenberg said. In Kerry's last swing through the state, he
earned $7 million with just two events, Gorenberg said.
Four mid-October events raised $3 million for Democratic
Making key political fundraisers feel appreciated
â€" through access, symbolic gifts and honorary
titles â€" has become a priority for both
The Bush campaign led the way in the 2000 campaign, when it
created the Pioneers, Rangers and Super-Rangers, and
granted them substantial rewards: According to one study,
at least 146 of them got federal jobs or appointments, some
in positions to regulate their industries; at least two got
Cabinet posts, and 24 were made ambassadors.
Last year, the Kerry campaign unveiled its own inner
circle. Those who raised $100,000 were named Vice Chairs,
$50,000 fundraisers were called Co-Chairs, and those
raising $25,000 became members of the "national finance
After the convention in Boston, Kerry campaign treasurer
Bob Farmer created the Trustees, fundraisers who gather
$250,000. Nearly 500 fundraisers signed up, 80 of them in
California, though some are still working toward their
goal, Farmer said. Trustees are eligible for the weekly
conference call and retreats where they have personal
access to the Kerrys â€" a taste of the kind of
relationships that, in Hollywood, are a tradition.
"This is a very creative community with very healthy egos.
There is no shortage of people wanting to offer advice,"
said Andy Spahn, the political advisor to longtime
Democratic donors Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and
David Geffen, as he sat in his sun-filled office eyeing a
CNN broadcast of Bush speaking in New Hampshire.
"There's a real process of humoring," Spahn said. "A lot of
the listening is ego massage."
One campaign volunteer put it more bluntly: "Donors love to
hear themselves talk."
By all accounts, the Kerry campaign does lots of
According to someone familiar with the relationship,
Spielberg has repeatedly encouraged Kerry to smile more.
The director has also sent Kerry John Wayne movies that
demonstrate how he used pauses to give his words emphasis
â€" an attempt to tone down Kerry's "academic"
speaking style, the associate said.
DNC national finance co-chairman Peter Maroney has chatted
with fundraisers at hotels like the Peninsula. Top liberal
fundraisers such as director Rob Reiner and environmental
activist Laurie David and her television star husband,
Larry David, went over the campaign's ads with Kerry
strategist John Martilla a few weeks ago at a private
Supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle, who hosted a
$4.2-million fundraiser for Kerry in March, is among those
who have participated in Tuesday conference calls for West
Coast fundraisers, Maroney said. Sometimes Democratic
National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe fields their
questions, he said.
"It helps in keeping people informed," Maroney said.
Kerry treasurer Farmer hosts a national Trustee call every
week, during which fundraisers can listen to a revolving
political A-list â€" strategist Bob Shrum, New
York Sen. Hillary Clinton, foreign policy advisor Madeleine
Albright and sometimes even Kerry and his running mate,
John Edwards â€" deal with issues such as the
campaign's slow response to the Swift boat attack ads.
"If you're in Akron, Ohio, or Kansas City, you suddenly
feel very connected to the campaign," said Farmer, the
chairman of the Trustees program. "I think involvement
always leads to money."
Laurie David said she has declined to accept a title
â€" one out-of-date DNC list calls her a
"Patriot," meaning she raised at least $100,000, though
party officials say she has probably surpassed that
â€" but she participates in the Trustees'
"For any political junkie, they're fantastic," she said.
"You really get to hear the inside of what's going on. You
get to stay home and discuss stuff and participate if you
have anything to say."
Though the Kerry campaign's fundraising ended with the
party convention and the acceptance of public funding,
donors can still give to DNC accounts like the "Kerry
Edwards Victory '04" fund, which finances efforts to turn
out the vote and television and radio ads, among other
things. The overall limit is $57,500 each election cycle,
In August, the Trustees were invited to a retreat luncheon
with the Kerrys at Heinz Kerry's 88-acre estate, Rosemont,
near Pittsburgh, he said.
"We sent out a letter to everyone saying, 'When you visit
someone's home, it's appropriate to bring a bottle of wine
or flowers,' " Farmer recalled. " 'What we're suggesting is
you bring a check for $20,000 or $25,000.' The Trustees
brought a total of $2.5 million. It was unbelievable."
At another such meeting in Washington the first weekend of
October, the Trustees helped raise $4.5 million. Trustees
were invited to a special meeting with Kerry and to
receptions with party luminaries, he said.
"It creates a national community," California's Gorenberg
said. "It's a nice reward for key people around the
But established Hollywood fundraisers are harder to
impress. The Zimans didn't even go to the D.C. retreat.
They went to a wedding in Las Vegas.
"This is not about the perks," said Daphna Ziman, a former
model and record company executive. "We are doing this for
our children and the future of this country."
Campaign finance reform has altered the "VIP lounge
mentality" that prevailed when presidential candidates
courted a handful of Hollywood insiders who could each
legally donate millions of dollars, said Skip Paul, an
early Edwards fundraiser.
Candidates "have come in and auditioned and kissed rings.
We expect to be courted," Paul said. "But it's not that
efficient anymore. It doesn't pay to drive across town and
wait for 15 minutes in someone's waiting room while they
take calls from their agent. It's not, 'Do you know a few
rich people?' But, 'Do you know a lot of people?' "
But in a city where the Academy Awards is just the climax
of a year-round series of events, political fundraising
benefits from a well-oiled social machine. In this
universe, an August fundraiser in Santa Monica, featuring
Tony Bennett, earned $3 million even though it was put
together on 10 days' notice.
"I sat right next to John [Kerry] and gave him my
opinions," said Richard Ziman, who with his wife was
co-chairman of the event.
Here, Gulfstream liberals mingle with Gulfstream
conservatives and Gulfstream libertarians, and political
fundraising networks overlap with philanthropic
money-raising circles. Fundraisers for Bill Clinton
reinvent themselves as fundraisers for Al Gore and lunch
with their friend Maria Shriver, the wife of Republican
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The wealthy liberal establishment employs a growing team of
professional political consultants â€" drafted
from the White House and national political campaigns
â€" who act as liaisons between major
fundraisers and the candidates, charities and causes they
The motivations of Los Angeles fundraisers are as varied as
their resumes: They're concerned about the war in Iraq and
the growing toll on U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.
They're worried about eroding environmental protections,
U.S. policy toward Israel, job losses and abortion rights.
They're concerned about intolerant attitudes toward gays
and stem cell research. Some just want a friend for the
entertainment industry in Washington.
Ambitious politicians like Kerry have tapped into this
donor-rich community for years. "There's no question there
are people in this community with long relationships with
Kerry," said veteran political advisor Marge Tabankin.
Emerging fundraisers are quickly drawn into the fold.
Just days after Laurie David initiated a high-profile event
for a pro-Democratic group, America Coming Together, DNC
chairman McAuliffe penciled in a closed-door meeting with
David and her husband in the "Chimp Room" of the Beverly
At times, however, it can be difficult to figure out who's
When Dan Burrell came to Los Angeles to orchestrate Kerry's
fundraising, he crashed at the Ziman residence
â€" for three weeks, the Zimans said.
"John Kerry calls me up and says â€¦ can
you give him a hand," Richard Ziman said. "He had no car,
no place to stay. He ate out of the pantry like the rest of
us. I talked to him every single day."
Then there is Jennifer Hodges, a volunteer coordinator
working with the campaign and married to a freelance
animation writer. Not long ago, she worked a fundraiser
honoring McAuliffe at the home of an animation
"I'm talking to her, making sure her celebrities are taken
care of, and it turns out she owns one of the biggest
animation companies in L.A.," Hodges said. "I said, 'Oh my
God, can my husband send a spec script?' She said, 'Sure.'
He called her the next day."
Daphna Ziman said she doesn't mind feeding Kerry
campaigners. What irks her, she said, is their insistence
on "idiotic" fundraiser titles that clash with her party's
"I told some people in the campaign that I don't want to be
called a Co-Chair or a Trustee anymore," Ziman said. "I
want everybody to be equal. I feel so equal to an autistic
35-year-old man who has saved $50. Fifty dollars coming
from a working person is worth much more than $25,000
coming from me and Richard."
But the treatment that big money donors receive is quite
different. On a recent night, Ziman was one of a handful of
people publicly thanked by Kerry's wife at a DNC fundraiser
where the level of access was determined by the money
donors had brought in.
The event's host was Luciana Solomon, a former "Bond girl"
who played the flame-haired assassin who mocked James
Bond's charms in 1965's "Thunderball" before being shot
dead on the dance floor by one of her own men ("Do you mind
if my friend sits this one out?" Bond remarked. "She's just
Actors Valerie Harper and Samuel L. Jackson were among the
celebrities at the soiree. But most of the people Heinz
Kerry mingled with in a restricted VIP area were a more
obscure but far more crucial group, fundraisers who had
each donated or helped raise more than $5,000 for the
Later, Heinz Kerry descended the garden path to address the
larger, lower-paying group, saying that Los Angeles donors
were "always there with a smile, always there with a hug,
and always, always, with some dollars."
There was hesitant laughter.
"Well, that's why we're here, isn't it?" Heinz Kerry
continued. "Unfortunately, we need money to run, as you
know. And you've been superb."
Heinz Kerry detailed the social issues her audience cares
about. But she also provided the intimate, insider tone
they have come to expect. She confided that her husband had
waited a long time to run for president. "He's the
slowpoke," she said. "I think of him as a good claret. He
takes time, and it's good."
She drew applause when she observed that Californians don't
see the political ads broadcast in battleground states
"because you're so progressive and so kind, you just give
us the money and we spend it elsewhere."
At the Zimans' home, a silent army of caterers set up
tables on a recent day for a fundraiser for Environment
2004, one of the pro-Democratic independent groups reaching
out to swing state voters who could side with Bush
â€" a choice Ziman finds incomprehensible.
"What is it about the American people?" Ziman said,
disappearing down a hall to get dressed. "I really feel
like half the population has had a lobotomy."
"Do you want to stay and meet Pierce Brosnan?" her voice
trailed behind her. "He's the godfather of my
A few days later, Ziman began her seemingly endless morning
phone calls in a small room adjacent to her French
provincial-style kitchen, in front of a window with a view
of water rushing down a stone fountain. Her husband padded
around the kitchen in his T-shirt and shorts, reminding her
about another reception.
Solomon, the hostess of the Heinz Kerry fundraiser, called.
Kerry's wife, Ziman reported, was very happy with her.
"I told her that she and you would be friends for life,"
Ziman told Solomon. "Teresa is one of those people who will
always make time for people. She'll be one of the only
first ladies to use the White House kitchen. She makes the
best cookies. I have to keep away from her."
"By the way, Luciana," Ziman asked her, "can you do another
"A lunch for Women for Kerry? You can? Oh, thank you so
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