Rudy dines out big

Senate hopeful packs in the heavy hitters, hoping to net as much as $1.5 million.

Published March 24, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani held his first official soft-money fund-raiser Thursday night, a private affair on Manhattan's tony Upper East Side where officials privately hoped to net $1.5 million.

Protesters stood outside the event -- held at Cello, a three-star, French seafood restaurant inside a townhouse -- toting signs calling Mayor Giuliani the "soft money king" and "soft money hypocrite." But shortly before the mayor arrived, a troop of 10 uniformed police officers arrived to escort the nine protesters across the street, surrounding them with police barricades.

Reporters were not permitted inside the restaurant, but attendees spotted entering or leaving included Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, uber-publicist Howard Rubenstein, lobbyist Ethan Geto, landlord and former deputy mayor John Zuccotti, real estate developer Jerome Belson, auto dealer Howard Koeppel, hotel owner Sam Domb, former New York Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino, New York Republican Party Chairman William Powers and former Deputy Mayor Peter Powers.

A person familiar with the event said organizers expected roughly 130 guests, all of whom contributed a minimum of $5,000. Fifty or so people who contributed at least $20,000 per couple were able to have dinner in a private room with Giuliani. Fourteen people -- who contributed at least $50,000 per couple -- were invited to an exclusive after-dinner chat with the mayor in a restaurant screening room.

The mayor set up the fund-raising vehicle, called the Giuliani Victory Committee, earlier this month, in an effort to bypass federal rules otherwise restricting donations to $2,000 per contributor. Hillary Rodham Clinton last fall set up a similar soft money committee -- which can raise unlimited dollars. The New York contest is likely to be the most expensive such race in history, and the two candidates have already combined to raise more than $20 million.

Theoretically, soft-money committees are not permitted to spend money on specific candidates, but only on items such as "issue advocacy," a distinction that has long since been ignored by candidates and, apparently, the Federal Election Commission. As a result, federal campaign contribution limits have essentially become meaningless.

Several of the contributors who attended Thursday's event have already donated to Mayor Giuliani's campaign committee. Rubenstein, for example, has already donated $1,000 to Giuliani's campaign committee as well $5,000 as to another de facto Giuliani soft-money vehicle, called Solutions America PAC, which campaign officials have said is no longer active.

The Giuliani Victory Committee was established in conjunction with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

By Jesse Drucker

Jesse Drucker covers politics for Salon from New York.

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Hillary Rodham Clinton Rudy Giuliani