[Documents menu] Documents menu

Donors Old and New Inspired by Lieberman

By Lori Montgomery and Ceci Connolly, Washington Post,
Saturday 16 September 2000; A09

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- The $10,000-a-plate chicken and sea bass were kosher. Many of the guests wore yarmulkes. And when Democratic fundraiser Alan Solomont introduced Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman at a luncheon Wednesday in this mostly Jewish suburb of Boston, he drove the point home.

"Joe," he said, using the Jewish term for family, "today you are with mishpacha."

In the five weeks since Lieberman joined the Democratic ticket, this has been an especially generous family.

The Jewish community has always been a reliable source of cash for the Democratic Party. But the prospect of having the first Jewish vice president has proved a significant fundraising boon to the party, and the first Jewish vice presidential nominee has turned out to be a fundraising dynamo. In all, Lieberman has brought in nearly $6 million for the campaign at solo fundraising events.

The Brookline lunch alone, just one of a half-dozen fundraising stops by Lieberman this week, netted $450,000 for the Democratic National Committee, much of it coming from first-time donors and even a few Republicans. Earlier in the week, Lieberman racked up $1 million each in trips to Texas and New Jersey.

Although only a few events have targeted Jewish givers, ethnic and religious pride has been a major theme at every Lieberman campaign stop, pulling new supporters into the Democratic fold and whipping the faithful to unprecedented heights of generosity.

"My phone is literally ringing off the hook," said former House member Mel Levine, a veteran Gore fundraiser who said eight prominent community leaders in Los Angeles have volunteered to host fundraising events with Lieberman.

"If you've ever wanted to play politics and you're Jewish and you have money, this is it. This is your guy," said Jeffrey Garcia, campaign manager for Democrat Elaine Bloom, who is challenging Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. in a South Florida district that is almost 40 percent Jewish.

Garcia said the campaign had been "begging" one wealthy prospect--a man who is worth half a billion but had never made a political donation--for a $1,000 check. Then Gore announced his vice presidential choice.

"Lieberman gets in and he says, 'I really want to get behind this guy,' " Garcia said. "We said, 'Well, you could give a very large check to the DNC.' And he says, 'How about $250,000?' I almost had a heart attack."

No one is sure how much Democratic money comes from Jewish donors, or how much those donations have increased since Lieberman's selection.

But the anecdotal evidence suggests the Lieberman effect could be considerable. Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Freidenrich, who has already given $25,000 to the DNC, plans to write another check for $50,000 when Lieberman visits Palo Alto, Calif.

"It spurred me to do more," Freidenrich said of Lieberman's selection. "It isn't just the pride of having a Jew on the ticket. It's that I keep coming back to this thought in my head: Only in America."

Former GOP House member Bill Paxon, a Bush supporter, played down Lieberman's money-raising potential, noting that much of the Jewish political money was already with Gore and that Lieberman comes "from a small state with small fundraising needs."

But other Republicans fear that Lieberman is attracting new support.

"Joe Lieberman is energetic, he's funny, he's intense and he's drawing big crowds," said one GOP fundraiser, contrasting Lieberman with GOP vice presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney. "Dick, on the other hand, is a plodding performer. He's thoughtful, responsible, mature, but he doesn't make a great cheerleader on the campaign trail."

In an interview aboard his campaign plane yesterday, Lieberman said he is "gratified" by the financial turnout. "I gather we have a lot of new people coming in, which is good," he said. "Al Gore sent a message by choosing me, and it is getting a very broad response."

Even veteran money men were astonished by Lieberman's performance Monday in Austin and Dallas, where he generated $1.7 million at four fundraisers in the home state of Republican nominee George W. Bush.

Much of the Texas money came from the high-tech community, which Lieberman has courted for years. But in Austin--the Silicon Valley of the Southwest--Jewish donors played a prominent role.

Ross Garber, a 34-year-old software entrepreneur who introduced Lieberman at a $1,000-a-head Austin event, said he was too young to have experienced the civil rights movement, couldn't understand why it was such a big deal to put a Catholic in the White House and had never been the target of discrimination.

"But when Senator Lieberman was chosen last month," Garber said, "it struck me for the very first time in my life that I had been disenfranchised. Realistically, I was not eligible to run for highest office."

At a $680,000 fundraiser on Tuesday in Englewood, N.J., an Orthodox rabbi addressed the crowd while little boys scampered through the house. Later, at a $10,000-per-couple affair in his apartment overlooking the Hudson, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg delivered a paean to Lieberman's ethnic pride.

"Joe Lieberman will never forget that long before he was a Democrat, and long before he was the vice presidential nominee, that he was a kid from a Jewish family that was so proud of its background," Lautenberg said. "Joe, there is so much depending on you. We want you to win."

As a two-term senator, head of the Democratic Leadership Council and founder of the New Democrat Network, Lieberman has strong ties to the insurance, banking and pharmaceutical industries, as well as to Silicon Valley.

Before he joined the ticket, his fundraising network included such heavy hitters as Marvin Lender, the founder of Lender's bagels, and John Doerr, a venture capitalist. This summer, Lieberman helped recruit donors for an event attended by Gore at singer-songwriter Paul Simon's Manhattan home.

Since "lightning struck," as Lieberman likes to say, his fundraising appeal has become so potent that the DNC has sent out at least one solicitation letter over his name alone. And the DNC plans to use him extensively for fundraising through October.

"I'm very excited about this kind of result, and I think it goes back to my upbringing where my dad had a package store," Lieberman told the crowd in Brookline. "My dad would bring the proceeds of the day home, and he'd sit at the kitchen table and count it out. And I could hear my mother saying, 'Henry, what kind of a day have we had?'

"So I want you to know that I'm going to call my mom tonight and tell her we have had one great day in Boston."

[World History Archives]    [Gateway to World History]    [Images from World History]    [Hartford Web Publishing]