Carl Schweser has joined a growing number of Democrats voting with their checkbooks in the 2000 presidential campaign--and they're sending an unsettling message to Vice President Al Gore.
"I guess Bill Bradley has caught my eye as a guy who gets things done," said Schweser, a University of Iowa business professor who made his first-ever campaign contribution, $1,000, after hearing the former senator from New Jersey speak at a neighbor's house.
"He's certainly not flashy," Schweser added approvingly. "I'm 6-foot-5 myself, and his shirttails hang out just like mine."
Millions of dollars from first-time donors like Schweser and bushels of bucks from Wall Street have combined to build an impressive bankroll for Bradley's upstart campaign, positioning him for a stronger-than-expected challenge to the vice president.
Anti-Clinton sentiments have certainly helped. Susan Barton, a Palo Alto lawyer, and her husband each gave Bradley $1,000. "I think he bears some taint of the present administration," Barton said of Gore, "and he's a total yawn for me."
But a closer look at how Bradley raised his $11.7 million in the first half of the year compared with Gore's $19.5 million shows the challenger has also been surprisingly successful at forging a financial constituency beyond just the disillusioned and disaffected.
Interviews and analyses suggest many Bradley backers are not necessarily anti-Gore. Rather, they are attracted to Bradley's low-key, cerebral nature or his celebrity as a former basketball star for Princeton University and the New York Knicks. A check of Bradley's 15,469 largest donors found that fewer than 200 gave money to the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996.
At the same time, despite his upstart image, Bradley's fund-raising base is hardly dominated by everyday Joes scraping together a few dollars to help. In fact, the $605 average contribution to Bradley was more than five times the average for Gore ($114) and even more than the average for well-funded Texas Gov. George W. Bush ($467).
An analysis conducted for The Times and CNN by the nonpartisan Campaign Study Group found that lawyers and financiers are the most common job categories among Bradley's 19,000 contributors. Many donors come from powerhouse Wall Street firms.
His biggest backers, according to filings from January through June, were employees and their relatives who do not work at Lehman Bros. ($79,750); Goldman, Sachs & Co. ($71,500); Salomon Smith Barney ($64,150); Merrill Lynch & Co. ($63,000); and Morgan Stanley Group ($57,750).
A good deal of Bradley's success grows out of his senatorial days, when he put together a fund-raising base that regularly took him to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major financial centers.
The metropolitan areas supporting Bradley's presidential bid most generously, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, were Chicago ($1 million) and New York ($797,250).
Southern California was generous as well, the Campaign Study Group found. Los Angeles County accounted for $475,374 of Bradley's total. Another $405,000 came from the Bay Area.
"Going back to his Senate career, he's always had the ability to raise a substantial amount of money," said Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist. "He's always done very well in the New York-New Jersey area raising money. He's always had good relationships with Wall Street."
More recently, Carrick noted, Bradley's yearlong academic residency at Stanford helped build ties to Silicon Valley and Hollywood, among other constituencies.
Under federal law, the maximum allowable contribution to a presidential candidate is $1,000 per person. Just 2.6% of Bradley's money came from donors who gave less than $200, the smallest percentage among the major candidates of either party. Small contributions represented 11.1% of Gore's donations.
Indeed, so many Bradley supporters "maxed out," in the political parlance, that one Gore advisor dubbed him "Thousand-Dollar Bill"--a play on "Dollar Bill," the old basketball nickname attesting to Bradley's superstar status.
"Bradley is theoretically running a campaign of the small people," a Gore strategist sniped, "that's supposed to be anti-Washington and anti-establishment. . . . Yet when you take a look at his contributions and contributor list, it reeks of the establishment."
But Gina Glantz, manager of Bradley's campaign, argued the challenger has received money "from many sources."
"We have done very well in California. We have done very well outside of Washington. We have over $250,000 in Internet donations," Glantz said. "These are people who go on to our Web site, read about Bill Bradley and send in $50, $100 or, in rare cases, $1,000. That's a lot of grass-roots support and a lot of people."
Gore, of course, has been no fund-raising slouch, although his take in the first six months of the year was overshadowed by Bush's record $37-million haul.
At the same time, however, while handily out-raising Bradley, Gore has aggressively outspent him. The result is a much smaller gap in the crucial count of the cash each candidate has on hand: about $9.4 million that Gore can spend in the primary vs. $7.5 million for Bradley.
The rough parity results from a conscientious effort on the part of the Bradley campaign to carefully mind its dollars and cents--even fretting over small change.
"We are challenging a sitting vice president who's had a capacity to raise money throughout his term in office and has many advantages in that regard," Glantz said. "In order to make our money worth more, we have to be smarter and we have to be more frugal."
Although the two campaigns reported comparable numbers of paid staffers--just under 100 for Bradley and 116 for Gore--there is a distinctly miserly philosophy to Bradley's operation.
Staffers double or even triple up at hotels when traveling--and stick to budget hotels. Requests for campaign buttons, bumper stickers and literature are routinely denied.
Workers at the New Jersey headquarters are encouraged to use regular mail instead of costlier overnight services and try to use both sides of a page when making copies. Bradley himself travels commercially, and drives rather than flies whenever possible.
Gore, who travels aboard Air Force Two and compensates the government at first-class rates, also has doled out far more money on high-priced consultants and pollsters.
In contrast, the Bradley campaign has persuaded its hires, whenever possible, to work on the cheap.
Challenging the Status Quo
By waging his underdog effort, Bradley has become only the latest in a long line to challenge an establishment front-runner in the Democratic primaries. It's practically a party tradition. Think of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) taking on then-President Carter in 1980, or Gary Hart harrying former Vice President Walter F. Mondale in 1984.
Some Democrats argue that Gore ultimately will benefit if he emerges from a tough primary battle with Bradley, although he may not like the competition.
"Gore has not been tested since his '88 presidential bid," said a Democratic activist unaffiliated with either camp. "If there are problems with him, you want to find out early. If Gore cannot cut it, Bradley is talented and credible to take his place."
Inevitably, there are some torn by the choice between candidates. A survey of the six-month FEC reports found dozens of contributors who chose to give money to both Bradley and Gore.
Those seeking guidance needn't bother consulting Ann Landers; Eppie Lederer, who writes the advice column, was one of those who donated to both candidates.
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Here are final figures reporting the financial status of presidential campaigns in the first half of 1999. The figures, submitted this week to the Federal Election Commission, don't include some miscellaneous costs and therefore may not add up. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch had not begun fund-raising by June 30.