War Doesn't Stop Political Fund-Raising Yet

Republican donor Irene Ayers felt a little strange attending a party fund-raiser with the possibility of war looming, and wouldn't want to see politicians raising money if war with Iraq comes.

"I would feel that it's inappropriate - I probably shouldn't be saying this when I'm going downstairs to have dinner with them - but I would feel it would be inappropriate to continue to fund-raise during an all-out war," said Ayers, of Merced, Calif.

Several Democratic and Republican party committees may do just that. As the spring fund-raising season begins against a backdrop of war, none has any immediate plans to cancel galas and other events.

The National Republican Congressional Committee raised about $5 million at its Tuesday night dinner honoring President Bush. Its Senate counterpart and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee each planned their spring galas next week.

All six national Democratic and Republican party committees suspended fund raising for nearly a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

They resumed it even as U.S. troops fought in Afghanistan, and both parties are now framing their wartime fund raising as part of a democratic process that should not stop.

"Americans expect democracy to continue in times of crisis," Democratic National Committee spokesman Guillermo Meneses said. "We think communicating our ideas and policies, whether it's the party or our candidates, is an important part of the democratic process. ... Obviously fund raising is part of those activities."

GOP donor Ayers said that when she headed to Washington for the NRCC fund-raiser, she had no idea Bush would give Saddam Hussein a two-day deadline to leave Iraq.

If the United States does invade Iraq, Ayers said she wouldn't understand how lawmakers would have time to fund-raise. Instead, they should focus on the war and domestic issues like tax cuts and the economy, she said.

NRCC contributor Cuong Do of San Jose, Calif., president of a real estate and mortgage firm, said he felt it was important to stand behind the president.

"Fund raising is part of it and as Republicans, we support it if we can," he said.

Margaret and Fred Martin, NRCC donors from La Conner, Wash., agreed.

"Life goes on, the government goes on," Fred Martin said. "There's got to be fund raising if you're going to continue to do your programs."

Some fund-raisers may have to do without their guests of honor in coming weeks.

The NRCC's dinner Tuesday was billed as a congressional salute to the president, but Commerce Secretary Donald Evans was keynote speaker. Bush didn't attend the event at a Washington hotel, where the reception room was festooned with red-white-and-blue backdrops and two glittery shooting stars.

About 1,500 people attended the $2,500-per-ticket event. The NRCC expected it to gross about $5 million, a healthy amount given tough new restrictions on donations under the nation's new campaign finance law.

The law, which took effect last Nov. 6, bans the national party committees from collecting unlimited contributions, known as soft money, from corporations, wealthy individuals or labor unions. Last year, before the law was enacted, the NRCC raised $9 million in soft money at its spring gala.

Now, the parties can accept only "hard money" - contributions from individuals and political action committees. Individuals and PACs can give up to $25,000 per year to each national party committee; individuals face an additional limit of $57,500 in overall party contributions.

"This is the first truly successful effort the committee has had" under the new law, NRCC spokesman Steve Schmidt said.

At least lawmaker, Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons of Nevada, said he will put his fund raising on hold during the conflict with Iraq. Gibbons is weighing whether to challenge Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

"I decided my focus has to be on doing what is right for this country," said Gibbons, a Persian Gulf veteran who serves on the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees.