Massachusetts Democrats will smash local political fund-raising records today with a $4 million event for their home state presidential candidate, John F. Kerry, organizers of the gathering said yesterday.
Democrats, who were once nervous about their original goal of $1.5 million, say they have been caught off guard by a surge of donations in the last week. The event at the Sheraton Boston was sold out by the weekend.
The expected crowd, once set at 1,000, will reach almost 3,000. The total take for the event tonight will equal the funds Kerry raised during 1996 in his hard-fought race for reelection against William F. Weld.
"This is absolutely unprecedented," said Alan Solomont, a national Democratic fund-raiser and Kerry's Massachusetts finance chairman, who confirmed that the campaign will collect more than $4 million tonight.
"I have raised money at every level since 1978; the energy and enthusiasm is like nothing we have ever seen," he said.
Other local Democrats agreed. "This has developed into the single most successful political fund-raising event I have seen in my more than 30 years in politics," said Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman Philip W. Johnston. "This breaks all records by far. No [other] events even come close."
The Democrats' success in Boston is a reflection of Kerry's fund-raising around the country. The Massachusetts senator raised $38 million in March. Kerry fund-raising events in cities around the country have far exceeded expectations, in good part helping him compete with President George W. Bush, who has had a lopsided advantage. Bush collected about $1.2 million at a Boston event last month.
The Democrats say they are tapping into nontraditional sources of political funds, including many people who have never given before and small donors who are now contributing up to the $2,000 maximum allowed by federal campaign finance law.
The common thread, they say, is a strong, grass-roots desire to defeat Bush. "I got three checks today, one for $1,000 from an architect, $300 from a wife of a guy I know, and $125 from a teacher, all three from people I have never asked before," said former lieutenant governor Thomas P. O'Neill III, who is on the host committee. "They are not the seasoned, sophisticated givers who donate to this kind of thing."
Said Solomont: "It tells you about the mood in the country. And it tells you something about excitement among the people of Massachusetts for a Massachusetts son."
The local Democratic financial machine has come out in full force. Solomont, a former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, pledged to raise $150,000 for the dinner, but is expected to raise $350,000. According to campaign aides, others who have promised to raise $100,000 but are far exceeding that include Cameron F. Kerry, a lawyer at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, a firm that has swelled the senator's campaign accounts in the past. He is raising $200,000. Housing developer John Manning, a close Kerry friend, pledged $100,000, but is collecting $250,000.
Johnston said he had promised to raise $25,000, but by the weekend had collected $125,000. He said he expected to have $200,000 before the books are closed on the event. Others raising money through the dinner include real estate investor Alan M. Leventhal, former Democratic US representative Chester G. Atkins, and Dennis R. Kanin, a Boston lawyer and Democratic campaign operative.
The most money raised in Boston at one political fund-raiser was $2.5 million for an event that Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, threw at the Park Plaza Hotel in September 2000. But the funds included "soft money," which is now banned. Governor Michael S. Dukakis broke the $1 million mark in 1988 after he had clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, and President Bill Clinton raised more than $1 million at a Boston event in his 1996 reelection campaign.
What has surprised local Democrats is that the money is coming from unexpected sources and in greater individual donations. Almost all of Kerry's usual donors in Massachusetts had reached the $2,000-per-person limit set by federal campaign finance law, leading the organizers for today's event to believe they would face a tough task rounding up a fresh batch of givers. Also, just two weeks ago, state Democrats had delivered $1 million in donations from Massachusetts to a Democratic National Committee event in Washington, D.C.
For Kerry, the burst of campaign cash coming to him from his hometown is particularly sweet. In December, when many had written off the one-time Democratic front-runner, those putting together his birthday party bash to raise campaign cash had to scramble to make sure the room was filled.
Now, many on the organizing committee who set goals for each member that they thought would be hard to reach are shocked at the response.
Nick Littlefield, a Boston lawyer and former top aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, had agreed to raise $100,000 for today's event. He said he expects to more than double that amount, after using the Internet to tap into his network of business and professional colleagues around the country and sparking a huge response.
"This has been a lot easier than I have ever experienced in raising for anyone before," said Littlefield, who has raised political funds for Kennedy and Clinton in the past.
Originally planned as a dinner, the fare has been scaled back to a reception, offering light food and drinks. The dinner tables that were to be set for 1,000 or so people have been cleared from the plans to accommodate the 2,700 people who are expected to show up. Extra metal detectors have been ordered to make sure the lines into the room are not backed up.
Listed as hosting the event are Kennedy, US Representative Edward Markey, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, with all three speaking. Stephen Stills of Crosby Stills & Nash will entertain the crowd.