Fundraising: What Comes Around ...

Using Vice President Dick Cheney's official residence as a calling card, the Republican National Committee is gearing up for a round of fund-raising this week that party officials hope will rake in more than $20 million in soft money for next year's election campaign.

The activity kicks off Monday night, NEWSWEEK has learned, with an unpublicized dinner reception for top party donors hosted by Cheney and his wife, Lynne, at the vice presidential residence. It culminates the next evening with a glittering "Presidential Gala" at the National Guard Armory featuring appearances by President Bush and members of his Cabinet.

Anxious to avoid comparisons with the widely criticized fund-raising activity of the Clinton White House, Republican officials insist that the kick off dinner at Cheney's government residence-expected to draw a crowd of over 400-is "not a fund-raiser."

But in explaining why not, RNC officials inadvertently mimicked some of the same language used by Clinton aides five years ago when pressed about why presidential coffees for wealthy donors and Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers were not an improper use of the White House for fund-raising purposes. The Cheney dinner event is for "friends and supporters of the vice president," said one RNC official who asked not to be identified. Another argued that the dinner didn't qualify as a fund-raiser because no tickets were being sold. "There's no payment to get in there," said the RNC official.

Then how was the guest list compiled? Party sources tell NEWSWEEK that the entire event is being sponsored and paid for by the RNC and the bulk of the guest list (which party officials declined to release) was culled from members of the GOP's Team 100-an elite group of high roller donors who have contributed over $100,000 in soft money to the party. As part of an effort to attract more donors to the May 22 "Presidential Gala"-and to enliven the opportunities for those donors who had already agreed to come-the RNC arranged for the May 21 dinner at Cheney's house, thereby giving its wealthiest contributors a chance to rub elbows with the man widely regarded as the most powerful vice president in history, the sources say.

Word that the Republicans were using the official vice-presidential residence for fund-raising purposes was quickly pounced on by Democrats. "This is rank with hypocrisy," says Jenny Backus, chief spokeswoman for Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe, who had helped create many of the more controversial fund-raising practices of the Clinton White House. "We always knew that special interests would feel at home in this administration."

While the guest list for Cheney's house remains a state secret, a copy of the official program for the next evening's "Presidential Gala"-obtained by NEWSWEEK-shows that a "who's who" of Washington lobbyists and interest groups have committed to raising a sizable chunk of the party's funds. Among those entities listed as "vice chairmen" of the event-an honorific that requires a commitment to raise or donate at least $250,000-are Philip Morris, the country's largest tobacco company; Tom Loeffler, a former Texas congressman who now lobbies for the chief trade association of nuclear power companies, and Cassidy & Associates, a powerful Washington lobbying firm whose top clients include the private institute that represents the interests of the government of Taiwan.

Listed as either "deputy chairmen" (requiring a commitment to raise or donate $100,000) or members of the "dinner committee" (requiring a commitment of $50,000) are AT&T; Bristol-Myers Squib; Sig Rogich, a veteran Republican consultant who represents Nevada gambling interests; Carol Hallett, president of the Air Transportation Association, the lobbying arm for commercial airlines; Red Cavaney, president of the American Petroleum Institute, and Ed Gillespie, a Washington lobbyist whose burgeoning client list includes Microsoft and energy giant Enron.