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Jewish World Review June 14, 2000 / 11 Sivan, 5760

Roger Simon

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Consumer Reports

Dick's dollars -- ON THE CROWDED NIGHTCLUB FLOOR in midtown Manhattan, the lawyers jostle the stockbrokers, the stockbrokers jostle the CEOs, the CEOs jostle the union bosses and the union bosses jostle whomever they wish.

It is a Democratic fund-raiser, and Dick Gephardt stands in front of the buffet table, hugging and kissing people, seemingly at random.

Faces are flushed, spirits are high, and the air is pregnant with possibilities. If the Democrats raise enough money, they figure they can take back the House of Representatives, make Gephardt the speaker and Charlie Rangel, whose 70th birthday is being celebrated this night, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

But money does not come through magic. It comes through guys like David Jones.

Jones, 34, a professional fund-raiser who began his political life as a college organizer for Amnesty International, stands at Gephardt's elbow, smoothly funneling people to him.

Jones sees a face in the crowd, summons up a name from his prodigious memory -- "You have to be good at remembering their faces, their names, their spouses, their kids, their dogs. And when they last gave money," Jones says -- and then gives them a hug and a tug and says, "Go and talk to Dick."

For many, merely meeting Gephardt, the House minority leader, is enough.

"They want a picture taken with the Gephardt or Al Gore or Rangel or the president," Jones says. "They want to be part of the effort; be part of the scene. They want to go to a fund-raising event and rub elbows with CEOs, the managing partners of law firms, business people. Maybe they'll do some business."

And some business will be done tonight.

Dennis Rivera, the president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, walks up to Jones and Gephardt. They are all old friends.

Gephardt: "Gimme
yer money!"

Rivera reaches into his suit jacket and extracts a slender white envelope. He hands it to Jones -- giving it to Gephardt would be unseemly -- and says emotionally in Jones' ear, "This is from the union."

Jones takes the envelope without looking inside, places it in his own jacket pocket and embraces Rivera.

A moment later, Rivera tells me, "We hope to generate the resources needed to compete with the Republicans who always outspend us."

Rivera then asks me if he knows how much money will be raised this night.

I check my notes and say I have been told that $2.7 million will be collected.

Rivera smiles. "I think you're going to be off," he says, "by a million dollars." And Rivera ought to know. Inside the envelope he just handed Jones were three checks, one for $500,000 and two for $250,000 each. Just a little surprise "from the union."

It has been illegal for unions to contribute to federal campaigns since 1943, but Rivera's contribution is perfectly legal because it is "soft money," whose very name has become a dirty word in American politics. Even those politicians who raise it, decry it. Gephardt, who rakes in oodles of it, would like to end it, and Rangel is downright passionate when it comes to denouncing what he flies around the country to scoop up.

"There is not a fund-raiser that I attend or speak at that I don't express my fear that unless we have an effective campaign reform law we may destroy the legislative system as we know it," Rangel told me. "We need people like me to say: 'Stop us before we destroy ourselves!'"

Thus far, Rangel's' cry for self-discipline has fallen on deaf ears.

Soft-money totals from this year have almost doubled what was raised four years ago, and the fund raising is still going strong.

Most of the money, however, is not raised in single, huge checks, but thousands of much smaller checks, which is why professional fund-raisers like Jones are worth more than their weight in gold.

"A national or statewide candidate needs a solid fund-raiser two years in advance of the election," he says. "Many people planning on running for the Senate are hiring us four years out."

Later, I watch Jones do it. In his pink-walled Washington office -- "It used to be a dentist's office," Jones says, "but now we extract money instead of teeth" -- Jones checks his 40,000 name database and grabs the phone.

"I'm smilin' and I'm dialin'," he says, punching the number of Patrick Mitchell, whom he describes as a long-time Democratic activist.

"Patrick! David Jones! How you doin'? You were? Good. OK. You got that letter from me, right? OK. What we need you to do is raise $20,000 in hard, federal dollars if you can for Gephardt. That's the priority. If you can commit to 20 and give it your best shot that would be good. I hear you, I hear you. That would be great. " Jones erupts into laughter.

Patrick, he explains later, has just said to him: "What do I get for that? A glass of wine and 10 calls from you?"

Jim Capel, Rangel's chief of staff, attributes Jones' success to just one thing. "He loves it," Capel says. "Someday we're going to build a museum and have a statue of a guy with a hand in your pocket -- that's David!"

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate