WHEN VICE President George Bush came to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for a fund-raiser last month, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Bob Hope were there to add the glitz. Hope, as reliable as instant coffee, warmed up the crowd with one-liners: “They say Dukakis is still getting ready for the first debate--he’s trying to learn the Pledge of Allegiance"; “George Bush has always been prepared for defense--he was ready for Pearl Harbor three months before it happened.”
When the celebrities, the crowd and the vice president had gone home, Los Angeles attorney Karl M. Samuelian was left to count the money.
Samuelian has become perhaps the most potent Republican fund-raiser in a state renowned for them. As the campaign finance chief for Gov. George Deukmejian, he orchestrated the collection of almost $14 million for the governor’s 1986 reelection. This year he is the state chairman for the Republican “Victory ’88" fund, which aims to raise millions of dollars to register GOP voters and turn them out on Election Day.
California is as much a magnet for Bush’s fund-raisers as it is for Michael Dukakis’, though the state is relatively less important for the vice president because, as a known quantity and the Republican standard-bearer, he can draw on a more diverse financial base than Dukakis. During the primaries, Bush raised $2.56 million here, considerably less than Dukakis. Bush raised almost $3 million in Texas, a state that is a major source for the GOP but only a marginal one for Democrats. Texas’ prominence allows Bush to be less dependent on California (and New York) than Dukakis. Nonetheless, in the fall, he is expecting to extract several million more dollars from California. Local Republicans have never launched such an ambitious fund-raising effort for a general election presidential campaign.
Like Dukakis, Bush has never slackened his fund-raising pace. With the nomination sewn up in March, Bush began raising money for the fall even before the primaries officially concluded. In early June, a glittering array of Republican notables gathered for a reception at Samuelian’s home in Bel-Air and a sit-down Chasen’s dinner under a tent at producer Jerry Weintraub’s house in Beverly Hills to raise about $1.5 million for the GOP’s “Presidential Trust"--the money the national party is entitled to spend on behalf of its presidential ticket. In late June, the Victory fund raised an additional $300,000 with a Northern California lunch at industrialist David Packard’s home in Los Altos and a private dinner. Toward the end of August, financier David H. Murdock held an event with President Reagan that brought in $800,000 more. A San Francisco dinner organized by retired Southern Pacific chairman Benjamin F. Biaggini brought in an additional $500,000. Events are scheduled all the way through Election Day.
For the Sept. 13 Bonaventure dinner--which contributed another $800,000 at $1,000 per plate to the GOP’s coffers--Samuelian, 56, compiled a list of co-chairs that included an impressive cross section of Southern California’s corporate elite: from the Irvine Co.'s Donald L. Bren to Howard P. Allen, chairman and chief executive officer of Southern California Edison Co., to Rockwell International Corp.'s new chairman and CEO, Donald R. Beall. Other business leaders, such as Lodwrick M. Cook, chairman and CEO of ARCO, played major roles in earlier events. A. C. Lyles, a Paramount producer and long-time Reagan friend, organized a coterie of Hollywood stars, including Schwarzenegger, Norris, Charlton Heston and Cheryl Ladd, that he dispatches to brighten the Bush events.
After two laps around the track with Deukmejian, Samuelian has developed a routine for raising money. He tries to systematize events as much as possible; he even prints up thousands of standard invitations that can be customized with the names of local sponsors. And he’s developed a network of donors around the state; those names, combined with lists of Bush’s supporters during the primary season, provide the backbone of this fall’s fund-raising for Victory ’88.
“Having been through this now for almost 10 years,” Samuelian says, “I have in place in all of the regions of the state people I can call on--people who were with the governor, or were with the vice president prior to my coming on.” He has computerized his list of donors so that if he wants to hold a dinner in, say, Fresno, he can easily print out a list of targets to pass on to the local chairmen.
Samuelian’s exertions for the Victory ’88 fund are only one part of the Republican financial effort in the state. Lawrence E. Bathgate, chairman of the Republican National Finance Committee, spent the day of the Bonaventure dinner canvassing Los Angeles for individual $100,000 contributors to the GOP’s new “Team 100"--a program the party launched in August to match the Dukakis efforts to raise $20 million from generous contributors. “California is very important to us, as it is to them,” Bathgate says late that evening, looking over a list of prospects. Through late September, the GOP had collected commitments from 25 Californians to contribute $100,000 each, Samuelian says.
With Sen. Pete Wilson also combing the state for his reelection effort, Republican givers can be excused for disconnecting their phones in the remaining weeks before the election. “The problem we have in Southern California is that senators and congressmen and politicians from all over the country are coming in here,” says Jerry Weintraub. “It makes it difficult for people here because somebody is a friend of Bob Dole’s, or somebody is a friend of Alan Simpson’s . . . and you try to support them. It becomes a little overwhelming after a while.” The relentless pace of political fund-raising seems dangerously high even to Samuelian. “I’ve been very concerned about that,” he says. “I’m on the firing line. I had to make a lot of personal calls for this event at the Bonaventure. People say, ‘I just gave you $10,000,’ or ‘There’s a deal at Murdock’s house,’ or ‘Pete Wilson’s fund-raiser called'--what are we supposed to do?”
At least, until Nov. 8, Samuelian, like fund-raisers everywhere, has only one answer: Dig deeper.