Democratic fund-raising lunch canceled for lack of big donors; Bad timing blamed for Clinton event that failed to draw a crowd


WASHINGTON -- National Democratic officials have been forced to cancel a fund-raising luncheon that was scheduled for next Monday in Baltimore because they failed to draw enough donors -- even with President Clinton on the program.

The event, which was projected to raise $300,000 at the HarborView complex at the Inner Harbor, had been arranged several months ago. The three hosts were to be Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

Party officials said they had trouble securing enough contributions for the event because many donors have already given money this year to political candidates, such as Townsend, who has her sights on the 2002 governor's race, and Vice President Al Gore, who is running for president.

"People's time, energy and resources had been tapped," said Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. "We thought it would be better to reschedule so we didn't take anything away from what they're doing."

Other Democrats said it would be embarrassing if the president headlined a sparsely attended function.

Late Tuesday night, the DNC pulled the plug on Monday's luncheon, which was intended to bring in about $5,000 from each of 60 donors. The event was also to feature a speech by Joe Andrew, the national chairman of the DNC. Party officials promised to try to arrange a similar function next year.

Other leading Maryland Democrats, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, were also scheduled to take part.

"I was ready to go and try to make it a success," Mikulski said yesterday. "Since it's been canceled, it'll probably be rescheduled for after the first of the year."

Angelos surprised

Angelos, who has given the party at least $200,000 in unrestricted soft money donations this year and has promised an additional $100,000, said he was caught by surprise this week to hear that the lunchtime event would fall short of its fund-raising goal.

"I wasn't asked to sell any [tickets]," Angelos said. "There was never any indication to me of that being a problem. Had I been asked, I would have joined the effort" to drum up more contributions for the event.

Some suggested that the scheduled fund-raiser was hurt by poor timing.

Schmoke and Townsend had asked the DNC to postpone the event, noting that many loyal Maryland supporters would not be receptive to requests for additional donations right now. Townsend, for example, held a $500-a-head event last night in Canton. And the next few weeks represent the home stretch in the city's mayoral race.

"Right from the beginning, when he was first approached, [Schmoke] said he thought this was a bad time," said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman.

Veteran Maryland hands pointed to the General Assembly's legislative session, from January to April, as the best time to hold such an event: Once the legislature is in swing, state officials are barred from soliciting contributions for their campaigns. That would make it a more fertile time, Maryland political figures said, for federal candidates to seek donations in the state.

Party shake-up

Until this week, the DNC had pushed for the fund-raiser in Baltimore this year. Emerging from debts caused by questionable money-raising practices in the 1996 campaign, the DNC has shaken up its hierarchy recently to try to reinvigorate its efforts and meet this year's fund-raising goals.

Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, who is to retire as mayor at the end of the year, has replaced Roy Romer as the general chairman of the DNC. The committee's finance chairwoman, Beth Dozoretz, also left her post recently.

A Democratic official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said the DNC had received pledges of $200,000 for the event but could not count on enough people to attend the lunch to warrant Clinton's presence.

"I guess he doesn't do small groups," the official said.

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