GOP Candidates Tap Fund-Raising Opportunity

The Republican National Convention (search) is officially President Bush's party, but fellow GOP candidates are not shy about using the days before the guest of honor's arrival to raise money for their own campaigns.

They are throwing parties with attention-getting themes as varied as Yankee games, yacht cruises, and, in Rep. Tom Feeney's (search) case, the five-hour road trip from Washington to New York on a rock 'n' roll tour bus once used by P. Diddy, John Mellencamp (search) and the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir.

It was clear that this was no typical wine-and-cheese reception. There were Doritos and beer. Donors played video hockey and watched the comedy classic "The Blues Brothers."

"If I don't have fun, I'll tend to gripe and grouse and do less of it," the Florida lawmaker said, adding that he has also raised money while bowling, hunting turkeys, fishing and watching hockey and football.

For Sunday's event, Feeney flew from Florida to Washington to get on the tour bus for the $1,000-per-person fund-raiser. He estimated the trip raised $10,000 to $15,000 - money the unopposed Republican will likely wind up donating to other GOP candidates.

Feeney estimated he met about a dozen new people on the trip, many of them lobbyists. He is matter-of-fact about their motivation for joining him for a long bus ride rather than a shorter flight or train trip to New York.

"Building relationships is obviously the big interest that they have," he said.

Feeney is not the only one using the convention to raise money. With control of Congress at stake, a break from Washington doesn't mean a vacation from fund raising for congressional candidates, and tickets to their New York events do not come cheap.

Illinois Rep. Jerry Weller was holding a fund-raiser Tuesday at a Cleveland Indians-New York Yankees game. The asking price was $1,500 per person or $2,500 for a pair of tickets.

Florida Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart invited donors to join him for his 50th birthday celebration at a New York restaurant for $1,000 a person.

North Carolina Rep. Richard Burr, running for an open Senate seat, was advertising a "drinks & designs" theme for his fund-raiser at a New York design studio. "Politics are in fashion at the Republican National Convention 2004," the invitation said.

Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn was throwing a "Salute to New York" fund-raiser, asking political action committees to donate $1,000 and individuals, $500. North Carolina Rep. Sue Myrick planned a fund-raiser on a yacht for $2,000 per donor. Those who give $3,000 can attend a VIP reception beforehand.

The fund raising comes on top of millions already raised in the 2003-04 election cycle.

In all, House and Senate candidates raised nearly $800 million and spent $487 million from January 2003 through last June, the most recent figures available, an analysis by the Federal Election Commission found.

That compares with about $605 million collected and $357 million spent by the same point in the 2001-02 election cycle.

The growth is due in part to a new campaign finance law that took effect after the November 2002 election, doubling the individual donation limit to $2,000 for congressional candidates.