Six years ago, 246 wealthy supporters of George W. Bush, mostly family friends and political insiders, pledged to gather at least $100,000 in individual $1,000 donations-the largest amount per individual then permitted by law-from their family, friends, business associates, employees and other well-to-dos. Known as the Bush Pioneers, their efforts helped Bush raise a record $101 million and secure the presidency in 2000.
And what did those Pioneers get in return? While the Bush campaign claims the only rewards their elite donors received were a pair of limited-edition cufflinks and a matching belt buckle, a watchdog group called Texans for Public Justice has shown otherwise. They point out that in addition to White House sleepovers and billions of dollars in government contracts handed out to some, of the original 246 Pioneers, more than 40 percent won a federal appointment after Bush became president.
With that kind of chum in the water, it's no wonder that the sharks are circling. Today, the combined ranks of Pioneers and Rangers-the new designation for fundraisers who collect more than $200,000-have swelled to more than 630 individuals. Even more impressive, with the maximum individual donation now at $2,000, the Washington Post estimates the Pioneers and Rangers are responsible for raising at least one third of the president's new record-demolishing $260 million in campaign funds.
Of those 630 Pioneers and Rangers, CityBeat found six with strong ties to San Diego. All but one, developer and Chargers owner Alex Spanos, are new cogs in Bush's money machine. Some might call them bandwagon jumpers, but most are familiar faces in state and local politics, contributing regularly and generously to various Republican campaigns. What might these individuals expect from Bush in return for their money and efforts? And what are their agendas? While we can't say for sure, with a little research we were able to generate some pretty good guesses.
Alex G. Spanos
Known locally for wearing the pants in the abusive relationship between the Chargers and the city, Spanos is an old Bush family friend and one of the president's biggest financial backers. This year alone, he contributed $5 million to jumpstart an independent pro-Bush group and hosted the president at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser that netted more than $1.5 million. In September, Bush appointed Spanos to the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts, and earlier in the year he named Spanos and his wife, Faye, to the Presidential Delegation to the 2004 Olympics. Nice perks for sure, but Spanos is probably more interested in protecting the loophole that allows professional sports teams to finance stadium construction with tax-exempt bonds, avoiding an estimated $100 million in taxes annually.
Samuel A. Hardage
Could it be that this former San Diego County GOP chairman and longtime California Republican politico is hoping to increase the approximately $600,000 his company, Woodfin Suite Hotels, received from the Bush administration in 2002 for lodging military personnel? Possibly, but Hardage may have more than money on his mind. Reportedly a member of the super-secretive Council for National Policy, which The New York Times calls "a staging ground for conservative efforts to make the Republican Party more socially conservative," Hardage's compatriots include the likes of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre and a host of other ultra-conservative whackdoodles.
Kenneth R. Saterlee
Collecting donations for Bush was just the beginning for Saterlee, a senior vice president with Burnham Real Estate Services, who, after achieving Ranger status, recently focused his fundraising efforts on a South Dakota Senate race. What's Saterlee's concern up north? He told the Argus Leader that he's helping former Rep. John Thune unseat Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschel because Thune and Saterlee share the same views on lower taxes and gay marriage. Turns out he just can't stand the thought of two broad-shouldered ranch hands enjoying a post-coital snuggle on their wedding night.
Brent R. Wilkes
We couldn't find evidence indicating what Wilkes, owner of Wilkes Corp. and its subsidiaries, would want from Bush other than additional contracts like the $10 million deal one of his companies, ADCS Inc., struck with the executive branch in 2002 to provide the Department of Defense with software and telecommunications services. It's the same reason why Wilkes also runs his own political action committee, creatively titled ADCS Inc. PAC, which he uses to funnel thousands of dollars each election to Republicans like Duncan Hunter, Trent Lott and Randy Cunningham.
A former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco, Nassif is now president of the Western Growers Association and serves the interests of the agribusiness industry in the southwest. You can bet that he's not in favor of increasing environmental regulations on pesticides or finding any real solutions to the steady supply of cheap immigrant labor. But then again, neither is Bush. In addition to the $200,000 Nassif raised for the president, the Western Growers Association PAC also kicked in more than $30,000 to aid Republican House and Senate candidates in this election.
Charles "Buzz" DuPont Jr.
Bush may not remember DuPont from their days at Yale, but the $37,800 DuPont ponied up for the president's 2001 inaugural fund probably helped jog the president's memory. The Union-Tribune reported in June 2003 that DuPont, a real-estate investor, flexed a little donor muscle when he called in a favor, securing a coveted letter of support from the White House just one hour before the annual luncheon of a local tort-reform group.