WASHINGTON – Even the fattest of fat-cat contributors to President Bush's (search) re-election campaign will find the free lunches more expensive at the Republican National Convention (search) this year.
The most prolific fund-raisers, those who make it to Regent or Ranger status by raising at least $200,000, have to ante up thousands of dollars for the perks that in the past often have been paid by so-called soft-money contributions from corporations and others.
And, perhaps taking a clue from the graduated tax bracket system, those at the top of the fund-raiser heap pay the most for a prepackaged -- no substitutions, please -- round of parties and general hobnobbing with folks of a similar persuasion at the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 gathering in New York.
Members of the Regents, for example, those who have raised at least $250,000 for the cause, will be socked for $4,500 -- double that if they want to bring along a guest. A Maverick, who may have accounted for as little $50,000, can get by with a $3,650 "registration fee."
But then the packages are not quite the same, either. The Regents and Rangers, for example, can partake of registration afternoon "hospitality" at the Ritz Carleton Central Park Hotel and cocktails and dinner at Lincoln Center's (search) New York State Theater, while Mavericks must make do with hospitality at the Four Seasons and cocktails and dinner at Le Cirque (search).
But they'll all jam together for the concert, "An Evening With Linda Eder," at Lincoln Center.
For those feeling a little tapped out, the biggest fund-raisers can opt for a, dare to say it, cheaper package. But those lower in the fund-raising pecking order cannot "buy" their way up the prestige scale by opting for a more expensive package that gets them in with the heavier hitters.
None of the fees include hotel or transportation to New York. "Optional activities" are extra, too, ranging from $50 for a Garment Center shopping spree that includes a box lunch, to a $350 round of golf at Trump National Golf Course (search).
It's all laid out on an Internet site operated by LogiCom Project Management (search), the Arlington, Va., based company hired to make the arrangements.
Similar convention fees topped out at $1,750 four years ago. Republican officials say, however, that with the new campaign finance law eliminating soft money contributions, the party is operating on a leaner budget and is aiming more of its money at things likely to produce votes rather than keeping the converted happy at convention time.