Sushi and soft money at high rollers' hotel

Published July 28, 2004 8:26PM (EDT)

The Four Seasons Hotel on Boston Common -- where the biggest Democratic Party high rollers hang out -- served as the backdrop for a scene that would surely have infuriated the Republican spokesmen, newspaper editorialists and campaign-finance reformers who complain constantly about liberal groups smuggling "soft money" back into the electoral process.

In an adjoining pair of ornate rooms on the hotel's second floor, crowds of thirsty Democrats were jamming into two receptions that were occurring simultaneously: the first hosted by Americans Coming Together, the "527" committee that is registering and organizing voters in battleground states, the second by Piper Rudnick, an enormous national law firm (with an important Washington lobbying arm) that includes former Maine Sen. George Mitchell among its partners.

Joining with Mitchell and Piper Rudnick was co-host Bren Simon, herself a major donor and Democratic activist who happens to be married to one of America's most successful real estate developers. Their guests included several of the party's most generous contributors.

As the Piper Rudnick guests flocked to the open bars and dined on roast beef, shrimp, salmon and sushi, in strolled a smiling figure from the event next door. It was none other than Harold Ickes, the former Clinton White House deputy chief of staff and, more recently, the political impresario behind both ACT and the Media Fund, another 527 group devoted to raising money for independent anti-Bush advertising. (Such organizations are called "527" groups or committees after the section of the IRS code that regulates their activities.)

Ickes didn't seem even mildly fazed by the presence of reporters in the room, although he said that ABC News had "sneaked a camera" into ACT's event. For a few minutes, he held forth on his presence at a convention where he is prohibited by federal law from coordinating any ACT or Media Fund activities with either the Kerry-Edwards campaign or the Democratic National Committee.

As a frequent target of Republican investigations and complaints, Ickes is quite familiar with the campaign-finance controversy. Following the 1996 campaign, he was called to testify before the congressional committee probing the Clinton-Gore finance apparatus he masterminded.

While insisting that ACT and the Media Fund have acted strictly according to the letter of campaign-finance laws -- "I'm surrounded every minute by fucking lawyers" -- Ickes said that he is in Boston to continue raising money during the convention. "We've raised $120 million out of $170 million," the original goal for the Media Fund, which is his primary responsibility. "And we're going to pick up some more here from all these maxed-out donors," he said, surveying the room before he moved on.

By Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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