- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

Terry McAuliffe orchestrated the most prolific fundraising machine in Democratic politics for more than a decade, transforming the pursuit of wealthy donors into a careful science that cajoled business executives with interests before government and rewarded big givers with intimate access to the politicians they supported.

His tactics helped commandeer hundreds of millions of dollars for Bill Clinton’s campaigns in the United States and his charitable efforts abroad, put Democrats on even footing with Republicans in the chase for political dollars and stirred controversy and investigations.

Now Mr. McAuliffe is seeking to make the leap from fundraising extraordinaire for others to political candidate himself. And his fundraising prowess is already showing in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, in a state with no limits on campaign contributions.

“I’ve been out at the highest level of national politics for 30 years,” Mr. McAuliffe, 52, told The Washington Times. “I’ve got great relationships. I have a lot of friends.”

Those relationships have quickly produced campaign cash.

After announcing his plans to explore a bid for office in November, the former head of the Democratic National Committee raised nearly $950,000 in just two months — easily outpacing his Democratic primary competitors, Brian J. Moran and R. Creigh Deeds, but short of the amount raised by his Republican rival, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who had four more months to campaign.

While many feared Mr. McAuliffe, a Syracuse, N.Y., native who now lives in McLean, Va., would flood the state with outside money drawn from his national connections, his early fundraising has been predominately within Virginia. Only 15 out-of-state donors gave more than $100, contributing a total of less than $3,000 to the former national party chairman.

Mr. McAuliffe said the focus on state donors was intentional. “We wanted to show people that we could do it in Virginia,” he said.

In more recent weeks, there are signs Mr. McAuliffe has expanded his fundraising more nationally to places like New York City.

Mr. McAuliffe’s January financial report included the usual top-end Virginia contributors: businessman Randal J. Kirk, a major donor to Gov. Tim Kaine’s political action committee who has doled out $1.7 million to Virginia candidates in the last 10 years; author John Grisham, who has given more than $400,000 since 1998 to state and local candidates; and James V. Kimsey, the founding chief executive officer of America Online, who has donated more than a quarter-million dollars to state and local candidates since 1996.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), Mr. Kirk gave $100,000 to Mr. McAuliffe, Mr. Grisham contributed $50,000, and Mr. Kimsey accounted for another $25,000.

“It was important for him in his initial report to … challenge that characterization of him as someone helicoptering into the state with bags full of money trying to buy an election,” Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at George Mason University, said of Mr. McAuliffe.

Long and shared history

The financial disclosures show that some of Mr. McAuliffe’s Virginia donors have a long and shared history with the candidate, including Fairfax developer Albert J. Dwoskin, who handed over $25,000. Mr. Dwoskin is listed among the board of directors of the George Soros-founded Democracy Alliance and is on the board of managers of Catalist, a Virginia firm that, according to its Web site, “offers progressive organizations affordable access to a comprehensive, well-maintained national database of voting-age individuals in the United States.”

Despondent over President Bush’s 2004 re-election, Mr. Soros, an international financier and billionaire who contributed $18 million that year to support Democratic candidates and defeat Mr. Bush, brought together 70 billionaires and millionaires in April 2005 to help create the Democracy Alliance and put together a long-term strategy to regain power.

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