BOSTON – In terms of campaign finance, Gary Gensler has done the equivalent of zero to 60.
The 46-year-old investment counselor said until last year, he had never raised a dime for a political candidate. Now he is one of John Kerry’s so-called “vice chairs” – an elite group of 263 supporters nationwide, including nine from Maryland, who have raised at least $100,000 for the Massachusetts Democrat’s presidential campaign.
In what is expected to be a fierce and closely contested election, Kerry has shattered records for Democratic fund-raising, with a money machine that has rolled up donations totaling $170.9 million as of July 25, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The idea of special recognition for large-volume fund-raisers originated with George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. Bush has Rangers ($200,000), Pioneers ($100,000) and, for supporters under 40, Mavericks ($50,000).
The Kerry campaign does not track exact figures for its vice chairs, but single-event totals can be impressive. Gensler, for example, said he hosted a fund-raiser featuring Teresa Heinz Kerry on June 15 at his home in Chevy Chase that, he said, netted more than $700,000.
Although not a delegate, Gensler is here at the Democratic National Convention in his role as treasurer of the Maryland Democratic Party, a position he’s held for a year and a half.
He credits his conversion to political fund-raising to his antipathy to the current administration. “I care passionately about this election,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything more important than explaining to friends and colleagues (that) I think the Bush administration has really missed an opportunity to unite the nation.”
He calls Kerry “a man of character” and downplays the connection between political contributions and political influence. A former partner at the Wall Street investment firm Goldman Sachs and undersecretary of the treasury in the Clinton administration, Gensler says he was never asked to take a meeting or alter a policy decision because of a political contribution.
While Gensler is a relative newcomer to the game of big money campaign finance, Wayne L. Rogers, 49, is a longtime Democratic fund-raiser. His Annapolis-based energy development company, Synergics Inc., has given $626,750 to various Democratic committees, according to FEC records.
Rogers, another Kerry fund-raising vice chair and convention delegate who manages Kerry’s campaign in Maryland, called fund-raising a “resource to help John Kerry get his message out.”
For him, political fund-raising is the answer to questions about “how to change the direction American is going: Do you think the country is on the right track? What are you going to do? . . . That’s the beauty of our democracy. If you don’t like the direction of the country, you can change it.”
There are seven other Kerry vice chairs in Maryland. They are:
– Matthew “Mac” Bernstein of Bethesda, a lobbyist at the Washington law firm Piper Rudnick.
– Lanny Davis of Potomac, former White House counsel during the Clinton administration and now a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in Washington.
– Constance Caplan of Baltimore, chief executive officer of the Time Group, a property management firm in Baltimore.
– Terry Lierman of Bethesda, a veteran politico and health care policy expert who started the year as Howard Dean’s national finance co-chair. He is managing partner of Health Ventures, a Washington consulting firm.
– Susan Liss of Chevy Chase, a convention delegate and national co-chairwoman of Women for Kerry and Women’s Voices on the Trail, the Kerry campaign’s outreach to women.
– Susan Ness of Bethesda, a communications consultant and former member of the Federal Communications Commission.
– Nancy Zirkin of Chevy Chase, deputy director of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights.
The Kerry campaign also lists 10 Maryland “co-chairs” who have raised between $50,000 and $99,999. They are:
– Ken Berlin of Bethesda, a lawyer with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, specializing in environmental and related regulatory issues.
– Bill Bumpers of Cabin John, a lawyer with Baker Botts, also specializing in international environmental issues.
– Sidney Dickstein of Bethesda, founding partner of Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky, one of the largest and most profitable law firms in Washington, D.C.
– Barbara Goldberg-Goldman of Potomac, president of Regal Domestics, a domestic staff placement company.
– Stephen M. Ryan of Gaithersburg, a lawyer and lobbyist for Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, specializing in high-tech regulatory issues.
– Morton Funger of Potomac, a partner in Ralmor Corp., a real estate development firm.
– Weldon Latham of Bethesda, a member of the Maryland delegation and partner with the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, specializing in diversity issues. He served as an adviser to former President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore and is now a member of Kerry’s National African American Steering Committee.
– David Marchick of Chevy Chase, a lawyer at Covington & Burling who specializes in international trade, investment and transportation issues.
– Jay Rosenblum of Bethesda, lobbyist for the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.
– Lynn Venetoulis of Lutherville, a self-employed consultant.
Maryland donors of all stripes have also been major players in this year’s campaign. Although the 19th largest state by population, Maryland ranks 13th for political contributions over all, according to Political Money Line, a nonpartisan campaign finance Web site. In the 2003-2004 campaign cycle, Maryland donors have written checks totaling almost $30 million. Direct donations to all presidential candidates stand at close to $9 million. – 30 –