NEW YORK – When someone wants to know who is in power, popular advice thrown around Washington is to just "follow the money."
These days that means following around Vice President Dick Cheney.
The second-in-command has been pounding the campaign pavement and raking in millions in contributions for GOP candidates around the country. Since Jan. 1, Cheney has come out of his post-Sept. 11 "undisclosed locations" to help his party bring in more than $12 million at 44 stops around the country.
"He’s doing a phenomenal job helping our candidates," said Ed Patru, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "He remains a very popular, well-liked leader in the Republican Party. We’re happy for all the help he’s given us."
"When you choose to only put yourself in the public eye at fund-raisers, people are going to have the impression that that’s all you do," countered Jennifer Palmieri, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "If the only time the public sees him is when he’s beating up on Democrats ... or raising money … that will take a toll."
Cheney and President Bush together have raised more than $100 million in campaign funds in the last eight months. Former President Clinton and Vice President Gore brought in $24 million during the entire 1993-94 campaign cycle.
But while some may conclude that the vice president is merely a fund-raising tool for the GOP, in actuality Cheney wields far more power in the White House than any other vice president before him.
Still, news of his other role as power broker on national security, economic, Mideast and homeland security issues seems to stay off the tip sheets.
Cheney aides say the vice president is just doing his job.
"Our mission is to develop policy and solve problems, it’s not to have a profile," Mary Matalin, counselor to Cheney, told Fox News. The difference may be that, whereas Cheney has no aspirations to run for president, every other vice president was "jamming his activities down your throat and begging to be covered," Matalin said.
When Congress is out of session, about 40 to 60 percent of his day is spent on national security issues, Matalin said, followed by homeland security issues, including bioterrorism projects and economic security. Cheney has regular meetings with economists.
"He’s steeped in macroeconomics," Matalin said.
On top of that, Cheney is the go-to guy for Congress and travels down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill at least once a week to attend Senate policy luncheons and meet with House aides. When lawmakers are back in their districts on weekends, Mondays and Fridays, Cheney hits the campaign trail.
"He tries not to be out of the office during the week," Matalin said. "He’s working like a dog … he puts his considerable brainpower into solving problems."
But, Matalin added, Cheney is "incredibly discreet," and although the media loved to talk after Sept. 11 about him hiding out in undisclosed locations, "his workload hasn't reduced."
Just last week, Cheney gave a major policy address in California on the economy and the administration's war on terror, saying it was the administration's fiscal policy that turned around three quarters of retraction that began in the first quarter of 2001.
He also said that rogue countries trying to possess weapons of mass destruction -- in other words, Iraq -- must be stopped.
"Deliverable weapons in the hands of terrorists would expose this nation and the civilized world to the worst of horrors, and we will not allow it. We will not live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes," he said.
Despite such a high-profile event, policy watchers say it’s not unusual for Cheney’s everyday activities to go virtually unnoticed.
"You don’t read that much about the White House chief of staff [Andrew Card]" or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, said Michael Barone senior writer for U.S. News and World Report. "When people do staff work inside the White House operations, it’s not necessarily public work."
But whether Cheney’s low policy profile and big money workouts will be a boon or bust to the Bush administration -- particularly when Cheney and the president stay mute while under fire for their own business practices -- remains to be seen. With recent changes in campaign finance laws and the corporate scandals taking Wall Street by storm, all eyes are on the White House.
"I think the concern with Cheney is what Democrats may see as the perception that he personifies … this attitude that the administration alone should not be held accountable for what they do," Palmieri said. "We think they should be leading by example, that part of leadership is being held accountable."
Richard Semiatin, assistant professor of political science at American University, said that today's calls for accountability are a byproduct of Democrats' own past actions. One example is former Vice President Gore’s 1995-96 Buddhist Temple fund-raising.
"Vice presidents now are going to be more scrutinized for their fund-raising activities than in the past," Semiatin said.