WASHINGTON - The hunt for cash, political cachet and votes is taking some of the 2008 presidential campaigns far from their usual cross-country tours to cross the pond to woo Americans living abroad.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani heads to London next week to give an inaugural Margaret Thatcher lecture at a London think tank and attend an invitation-only expatriate fundraiser next Wednesday. Supporters can rub elbows with him for contributions of $1,000 to $2,300. Between the speech and fundraiser, Giuliani hopes to meet with British government officials to help burnish his foreign affairs credentials.
“It’s a pretty good move: You come over, prove you can play with the big boys and wear the suit of diplomacy,” said John Hulsman, an American expatriate and analyst for the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “And the expatriates are just thrilled to have you in the same time zone.”
Giuliani’s campaign isn’t the first and won’t be the last to roll through London before Election Day 2008. Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., stopped by London in June to pay respects to Margaret Thatcher, the conservative icon and former British prime minister.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is dispatching former President Bill Clinton to London for a fundraiser Oct. 3. It’ll have the same entry fees as Giuliani’s.
Not to be outdone, Sen. Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle, also will headline fundraisers in London next month.
Even Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has earned international frequent flier miles, taking his presidential campaign to expatriates in London, Syria and Lebanon. His wife, Elizabeth, met recently with American Democrats in Germany.
Trying to appeal to the estimated 6.6 million American civilians who live and work abroad and the roughly 473,000 U.S. military members who are stationed overseas is nothing new - the Democratic and Republican parties have had international outreach organizations since the 1970s - but this level of effort is.
“It shows the extent to which they are looking for every dollar,” said Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Maine’s Colby College and a specialist in political fundraising. “What you’re seeing is the globalization of campaign fundraising.”
There’s no better place to do it than London, a world financial center where some traders raked in bonuses as high as $4 million earlier this year. More than 6,700 U.S. businesses have offices in London, and about 35,000 of an estimated 250,000 Americans living in the United Kingdom call the city home.
“There is a huge opportunity to get some substantial fundraising,” said Bill Dal Col, who managed Republican Steve Forbes’ 1996 presidential campaign. “There’s no reason not to play that card now. There’s money to be made in London or Zurich. There’s substantial resources.”
Soliciting political contributions from Americans living overseas is permitted under federal election law. Federal Election Commission rules, however, prohibit campaigns from accepting contributions from foreign governments, foreign associations, foreign corporations, individuals with foreign citizenship or immigrants who don’t have green cards.
In the past, campaigns were hesitant to accept contributions from Americans abroad for fear of running afoul of the FEC’s stringent rules. The fear subsided around 2004 when campaigns began to realize how much expatriate money was out there, according to Sharon Manitta, the communications director for Kucinich’s campaign and a former spokeswoman for Democrats Abroad.
“They realized there was an untapped resource out there,” she said.
It’s up to the campaigns to do the due diligence to ensure that their overseas contributions are legitimate. For example, the invitation for Hillary Clinton’s London fundraiser requires contributors to submit copies of their passports or green cards.
The heightened fundraising efforts abroad stem from the 2000 election, when President Bush eked out a 537-vote victory over former Vice President Al Gore in Florida that focused attention on the thousands of overseas ballots, said Karen Finney, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman.
With hundreds of thousands of expatriate voters registered in battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio in 2004, Democratic and Republican party officials launched large international get-out-the-vote drives.
Republicans Abroad spent $285,000 that year on a voter drive that mainly consisted of ads in The Miami Herald, Canada’s National Post, the Guadalajara Reporter, The Jerusalem Post, and Stars and Stripes.
The Democratic National Committee and Democrats Abroad spent about $182,000 in 2004 on international advertising, voter registration and direct mailings. Democratic and Republican officials say they expect to be more aggressive during the 2008 presidential campaign.
“We know that elections are getting tighter and tighter and every vote counts,” Finney said. “This is a competitive cycle, and campaigns are being very aggressive in looking for votes and funds in all places.”
(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Liz Ruskin contributed to this report from London.)