Washington Prowler

Johnnie PACs It In

North Carolina presidential wannabe Sen. John Edwards is rolling in campaign stash.

By 7.17.02

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With the release of quarterly Federal Election Commission political fundraising results, friends and allies of Al Gore say his low total is nothing to worry about. "He has plenty of contacts for fundraising," says a Gore adviser. "No one is worried about Al raising money." But he only raised $300,000. "Look," counters the adviser, "he wasn't even trying to raise money and he pulled that in. It isn't a big deal."

Perhaps, but others in the Democratic Party are making a big deal of Al's low numbers, especially when they look at what relative newcomer Sen. John Edwards did through his PAC. His New American Optimists PAC raised more than $2 million dollars in the past three months; his Senate campaign committee raised another cool half mill. Only the Senate money can be rolled over into any presidential election committee he might set up. So what will Edwards do with the Optimist PAC money he's raised? He'll pass it out to other candidates of his liking, in effect purchasing support for his presidential run.

All in all, Edwards reported having about $4.4 million on hand. And what's telling is the amount of soft money he pulled in just as time is starting to run out on that form of fundraising. More than half of Edwards' PAC money came from large soft money donors -- the biggest being Hollywood producer Steve Bing, he of the jet-setting lifestyle and tabloid headlines over his alleged fathering of actress/model Elizabeth Hurley's son. Bing cut Edwards a check for $250,000. Edwards also pulled in $100,000 checks from lawyers or law firms in New York, South Carolina, and Arkansas. He received $50,000 checks from backers in New York, California and Texas.

While Edwards took in about $500,000 in all from California donors, his fundraisers say he hasn't begun to hustle the Left Coast for cash. "We did a couple of things out in L.A., but we haven't really hit that state hard yet," says an Edwards fundraiser. "We know we can pull in a lot more. That's where the fawning Vanity Fair and Esquire profiles are going to really pay off for us."

But few people were looking at the comparatively small, $1.3 million total of hard money Edwards has banked. No biggie, says an adviser to the North Carolina trial lawyer turned pol. "All those people who gave him soft money in big amounts will be there for him again for hard money, plus they will get their friends to cut him checks for the maximum allowable after November. That means lots of $2,000 checks in the bank."

The Edwards adviser points out what could become an interesting trend in the campaign fundraising cycle that ends in early November when the new campaign fundraising reforms kick in. Just how active will candidates be for those $1,000 checks in October, which in December they could turn into $2,000 checks under the new maximum allowable? "Are you kidding?" asks a DNC-er. "There isn't a candidate who won't take a $1,000 check in September and then won't be back to that person for a $2,000 check after January 1. Everyone, though, will be focused on the soft money donations in the next few months. As much as they can get, they will take."

One state where Edwards' syrupy-thick Southern drawl didn't pay, was Mississippi, home of nationally prominent trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs, big Democratic donor and brother-in-law to Republican Senate leader Trent Lott. Scruggs earlier this year locked horns with Edwards over the senator's ungentlemanly treatment of judicial nominee Charles Pickering, a fellow Mississippian. When Edwards refused to take Scruggs's phone calls, Scruggs threatened to work to cut off the trial lawyer donation spigot. While it isn't clear that Scruggs worked hard to do that, no major law firm in his state contributed to the Edwards PAC. "But we were expecting more soft money from law firms in Florida, Georgia and Louisiana," says the Edwards fundraiser. Scruggs may have had something to do with that too.

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