WASHINGTON — Apparently it's no longer enough for top fundraisers to gain special access to their favorite politicians. Now they need a special title, too.
For Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for example, major fundraisers are labeled as Pilots ($50,000 or more), Explorers ($100,000), Entrepreneurs ($250,000) or Patriots ($500,000 and up). Each level gets its own raft of goodies, from invitations to receptions to a "VIP Republican National Convention Package" including a hospitality suite, according to a campaign strategy document.
GOP hopeful Mitt Romney divvies up his biggest fundraisers with an Olympics medal theme, presumably in honor of his stint overseeing the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Those who raise $50,000 get a bronze, $100,000 gets silver and over $250,000 wins the gold.
The proliferation of fancy titles amounts to a system of rewards and incentives for supporters to keep digging for more money.
The phenomenon first became prominent in 2000, when George W. Bush dubbed his top fundraisers Pioneers for $100,000 or more in contributions. In 2004, Bush added Rangers and Mavericks to the cowboy-themed list.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., called his top fundraisers "vice chairs" in 2004, while Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton counted on "HillRaisers" in 2008. Rudy Giuliani's baseball theme included "sluggers" and "MVPs."
One exception to the trend is President Barack Obama, who so far has not bestowed pithy titles. Obama, the only 2012 candidate to disclose his bundlers' names so far, does place big fundraisers on a national finance committee and has created a special program for young donors called Gen44.
Michael Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute said titles are meant to inspire supporters while also saying something about the candidate. Perry calling his top fundraisers Patriots, for example, "implies that your opponents' donors are not patriotic," he said.