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Caveat lector

6 July 1999

The Howler footnote: Nap time

Synopsis: A Rick Berke piece on Bush fund-raising made Big Money seem like a sweet dream.

Flush Times and Hungry Republicans Generate Bush Campaign Windfall
Richard L. Berke, The New York Times, 7/4/99

When last we looked in on the Times' Rick Berke, he was standing on a Texas tarmac, looking in wonder at Governor Bush, who had stopped by, on-air, for a chat. The incident led to the comical intro that Brian Williams gave his next guest, Steve Forbes, in which Williams' growing puppy love just couldn't be repressed any longer (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/1/99).

But we couldn't help chuckling, here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, when we read Berke's Sunday New York Times piece, a lengthy article providing background on Bush's record fund-raising. As we've mentioned, both the Times and the Post expressed deep concern when Gore was ahead in fund-raising this spring. Indeed, each published a lengthy Sunday magazine piece about the dangers of Gore's money goals (see "Our current howler," 7/6/99). But no trace of such scruples even begins to appear in Berke's review of Bush's record. Instead, the unprecedented sum that Bush has raised is now seen as a measure of the hopeful's charisma-without so much as a single word to suggest the concerns of last May.

How easy has it been for Bush to raise money? Pretty easy, according to Berke. At three separate points, he tells us that Bush has had to make no phone calls for funds, a claim Berke can't know for a fact. Indeed, Berke seems to feel required to recite the Bush spin-that people are just throwing their money at Bush. The campaign "has been geared more to managing the inward torrent of money than soliciting donors," he says at one point. He says this immediately after describing how Bush has benefited from the fund-raising operations of major Republican governors. "They have leaned on their own financial networks to raise money for Mr. Bush," Berke writes, just before repeating the Bush campaign mantra that the money has come in by itself.

But what about the concerns expressed in this spring's articles on Gore's fund-raising-the articles by Ceci Connolly and Jill Abramson in the Post and the Times Sunday mags? Reform advocate Fred Wertheimer was quoted in both, warning about the large sums Gore was seeking. In Connolly's piece, Wertheimer specifically warned that the influence gained by individual fund-raisers creates a danger for the political system.

Gore's big fund-raisers try to raise $50,000 apiece; Bush's "Pioneers" try to raise twice as much. But no concern about their role is expressed by Berke-quite the opposite:
BERKE: The campaign has established an elite group of about 200 supporters, called "the Pioneers," who have each agreed to raise $100,000 from their friends and associates. (About half have met their goal, campaign officials say.) The campaign refused to disclose the names of the Pioneers. "A lot of people would just as soon not have their names released," [Bush fund-raising chair Don] Evans said. "We owe them the courtesy of keeping that private."

Even with the campaign refusing to name its funders, there is not a word in Berke's lengthy piece about the concerns Wertheimer voiced this past spring.

Needless to say, Berke has no responsibility to speak to every point from other writers' work. And we ourselves are not especially worried by the problem Wertheimer described. We do, however, think Berke's article provides quite a contrast with the earlier pieces. There is not a word in this lengthy profile to suggest any problem with raising these sums-sums which dwarf the goals Gore set, which the two papers found so disturbing.

Nope, there isn't a hint of the horrible dangers that drove the Gore-bashing pieces. How innocent is the Bush fund-raising? Take in this closing scene:

BERKE: Mr. Bush said he was sliding into a nap on a couch in the dark cabin of a corporate jet about 1 A.M. on June 25 when Mr. Evans told him there would be a turning point for his campaign, not to say a milestone in presidential politics.

"Donny came back and said, 'I think we can put a three before the number,'" he recalled in the interview. "I was reclining and I just kind of smiled. I just kind of shook my head. Then I sacked out. It was a nice note to go to sleep on: a groundswell of support that I never dreamed would happen."

Berke, again, has no way of knowing if Bush's account is accurate. The anecdote does give Bush a chance to portray his fund-raising in a benevolent manner. And the image draws a striking contrast with the way big money was portrayed this past spring. We've said all along: we have no reason to think that Bush or Gore has done anything wrong in their campaign fund-raising. But there is something wrong when we compare this piece with the groaning articles that were published this spring.