The Kingmaker

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DIRCK HALSTEAD FOR TIME

McAuliffe received a standing ovation when he announced the $26.5 million take at last week's gala

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McAuliff Image
JAMES COLBURN FOR TIME
In the two months before the fund raiser, McAuliffe and his team made 200 phone calls a day

The friendship has turned McAuliffe into the man to see in Washington, which explains the procession of lobbyists and diplomat-wannabes who stop by his reserved tables at two favorite luncheon haunts, the Palm and the Oval Room. Like every other presidential fund raiser, he has a say in political appointments. For ambassadorial jobs, Clinton has been known to give aides a list of candidates and ask, "What does Terry think?" McAuliffe is a centrist who claims he never takes up "issues" with the President. But Democratic sources say he can take credit for about 25 diplomatic postings from Madrid to Malta to the Dominican Republic.

McAuliffe's success lies partly in the fact that he can tap the treasuries of both labor and industry, the far ends of the Democratic empire. While one of his mentors, former House whip Tony Coehlo, got Washington lobbies to spread their largesse to probusiness Democrats in the 1980s, young McAuliffe hit the road to find new donors in law firms, mid-size businesses and real estate brokerages. His recruits were people who were reliable voters but were sometimes excluded from the established social register--Jews, Irishmen and Asians. By 1993, McAuliffe had boosted ninefold the D.N.C.'s club of business leaders who paid dues of $10,000 a year. They became the roots of McAuliffe's money tree, which keeps flourishing thanks to his continuous stream of small kindnesses. No event passes without personal thank-you notes to "my guys," as McAuliffe calls them. He attends out-of-town funerals of their relatives, lines up White House tours for their friends and arranges presidential notes for special occasions. He puts together golfing foursomes with the President. The joke among donors is that McAuliffe runs Clinton's pro shop. He makes sure that Jews are invited to state dinners for Israeli visitors and that Irish Americans are invited to Clinton's St. Patrick's Day fete. He used to send out penny Valentines every February until the number reached several thousand.

It was as a favor for a powerful labor boss that McAuliffe agreed to chair last Wednesday's gala. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney had become so unhappy with D.N.C. leaders that he threatened to stop affiliated unions from donating to the party unless McAuliffe took over its reins. Only he could raise a lot of money quickly to get Gore on the air during the lead-up to his nomination, Sweeney argued. McAuliffe was unwilling to take the full-time job, but he did promise to lead the drive for dollars. At 9 a.m. on March 27, he and associate Peter O'Keefe sat around a small table in D.N.C. chairman Ed Rendell's office. With an alphabetical list of 150 names culled from McAuliffe's Rolodex, they focused on Clinton's biggest helpers of 1996. The first call went to Dan Abraham, chairman of Slim-Fast Foods Co. McAuliffe told him about the tribute and asked, "If the world blew up tomorrow, Danny, what can I put you down for?" Abraham promised to send a check for $500,000 the next day.

McAuliffe racked up more pledges: $250,000 from Elaine Schuster, wife of a Boston real estate executive who was honored by the appearance of Hillary Clinton at a hospital tribute to her; $500,000 from Chris Korge, a Miami lawyer who had a golf outing with the President set up by McAuliffe. On Day Two, he visited Sweeney. "John, as you can see, I'm here," he said. "You can trust it." The labor boss signed on, clearing the way for about $3 million in contributions for the gala and sending McAuliffe back to the phones. For the next eight weeks, he led a team that made about 200 calls a day. The scene could have passed for a bookie operation, with lines jangling and commitment sheets flying across the table. When he exhausted his own list, McAuliffe was supplied with the names of past contributors.

Two weeks out, they had promises of $25 million but far less in hand. It was collection time, a chance for McAuliffe to demonstrate his trademark blend of cajoling and ribbing and his use of fund-raising argot--an old hand never needs to say the last three digits of the big dollar amounts. "You all pumped up for the event?" he asked Niranjan Shah, an engineering-firm executive in Chicago. "You got your 100 done?" Pause. "No, you're right. You don't have a choice." O'Keefe found sport in the next call as he dialed Cincinnati lawyer Stan Chesley. "Ten bucks you can't close this guy," he dared McAuliffe. McAuliffe liked the bet, nodded and picked up the line. "Stan, have you got 50 out there for me? That's all I'm asking." McAuliffe's face lit up. "I love you. You'll get it in before May 24. I thank you for your $50,000 check. You'll be in all the action. You'll go arm to arm with me in every event." The understudy threw several dollar bills across the table. "I love spanking you young guys," McAuliffe said. "Twenty-one years I've been doing this, and they try to smoke the Mack."

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