Cellucci nets $2.8m for self, Bush

Surpasses fund-raising goals; critics say effort distracts him

By Frank Phillips, Globe Staff, 10/11/99

t a pace never before seen in Massachusetts, Governor Paul Cellucci is raising huge cash for his campaign war chest while also leading a record-setting fund-raising drive for Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush.

Cellucci has already surpassed his own fund-raising goals for 1999, collecting $1.3 million since January. His campaign quickly revised its expected take for the year to $1.75 million.

And Cellucci's push for Bush is even more successful, generating $1.5 million from Massachusetts donors this year, $100,000 more than the national Bush campaign had sought from the Democrat-dominated state for the entire two-year election cycle.

The sums inspire awe among the governor's political colleagues.

But amassing cash at such a clip eats into the governor's time. Cellucci is now holding three to seven events for contributors per week, from small breakfasts with downtown business representatives to 300-person parties.

Critics say the focus on fund-raising is distracting Cellucci from the tasks of governing and setting a bold vision for the state.

And others worry Cellucci's seeking of contributions for Bush from corporations and special interests sends a subtle signal that their access to the administration, and even to state contracts, could be imperiled if they do not give.

Some targets of the aggressive solicitations said they feel they have little choice but to contribute. But they would not be quoted for attribution.

''This exceeds anything we have ever seen,'' said George Pillsbury, director of the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project.

''It's really another way the money arms race is accelerating.''

Cellucci has also led an effort to raise huge soft-money donations, some more than $100,000 each, for national Republican operations.

Cellucci's fund-raising success is even dwarfing that of former governor William F. Weld, who reached new heights for fund-raising in a Massachusetts campaign.

The money Weld raised for former California Governor Pete Wilson, then a presidential hopeful, was a fraction of what Cellucci is piling up for Bush, though Wilson shut down his campaign after a frustrating several months.

Until this year, the most ever raised for a Republican presidential candidate in Massachusetts was $1.1 million for the 1987-1988 election cycle for then- Vice President George Bush.

Cellucci's dogged fund-raising for the younger Bush has intensified speculation that the governor would join a Bush administration. But some close to Cellucci brush aside the rumors, saying Cellucci feels loyal to the Bush family and embraces the Texas governor's blend of fiscal conservatism and inclusiveness.

Many of Cellucci's appointees and advisers have written checks for the Bush effort, including Stephen Tocco, who heads the board of higher education; Peter Blute, who until recently was director of Massport; Matthew Amorello, Cellucci's Highway chief; Robert Cordy, who heads Cellucci's judicial screening committee; political strategist Ray Howell, who holds a Massport contract; and Jeffrey Locke, whom Cellucci made interim Department of Social Services commissioner.

Also, many individuals from EMC Corp., a high-tech firm in Hopkinton, which has supported Weld and Cellucci, donated to Bush. Arthur Remillard, who heads Commerce Insurance and has also helped Weld and Cellucci, is another Bush donor.

Rob Gray, who runs Cellucci's political operations, dismissed the idea that donors are seeking access to Cellucci by giving. He pointed out that with Bush a formidable front-runner in the polls, many in Massachusetts want to back him.

And Gray said donations to the governor are coming from business leaders and citizens who support Cellucci's public policies.

''People who share our agenda are people we listen to,'' he said.

Among the big givers to the Cellucci campaign fund are major Boston law firms, which often seek influence with the governor.

The lawyers at Choate Hall & Stewart raised nearly $8,000 for Cellucci at an early August fund-raiser, at a time when one of their partners, Thomas F. Maffei, was a candidate for a Supreme Judicial Court appointment. Maffei's name never made it past Cellucci's screening panel.

The state's construction industry, real estate interests, and Boston's financial houses are also major sources of Cellucci contributions.

Gray said the governor's fund-raising reflects the broad base of support the governor has in Massachusett s, and he scoffed at the idea that it is excessive. Gray noted top state Democrats are doing much the same thing, but that a far higher percentage of Cellucci's funds are from Massachusetts.

And many of the top Democrats are federal officeholders who can collect $1,000 individual donations, while state candidates are limited to $500.

''This isn't any different from what Ted Kennedy or John Kerry are doing,'' Gray said, referring to the Bay State's two US senators. ''We're in fact working under a state law that has far more restrictions than the federal regulations.''

Pillsbury and other reformers won voter approval last year of a ballot initiative that will provide public funding for candidates for state office. The law will provide about $14 million in state funds for campaigns.

But Cellucci and several other major officeholders, including Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, a Democrat, have opted out of the system and say they will raise their own funds.

Gray said Cellucci does not believe public funds should be used for campaigns. He also said Cellucci's political viability depends on his ability to raise money to fund an ongoing political operation. Candidates who agree to accept public funds must then restrict their fund-raising.

''It's unilateral disarmament, because a federal officeholder who wants to run for governor or a rich businessman who wants to spend an unlimited amount of cash on his campaign can fund political activities,'' Gray said.