Profile: Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe may be chairman of the Democratic National Convention, but Al Gore has a different title for him: “The greatest fund-raiser in the history of the universe.”

That’s what Gore called McAuliffe during May’s record-smashing “Barbecue and Blue Jeans” gala at Washington’s MCI Center that raised $25 million in a single night, a figure unsurpassed by either party.

It is also why Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, personally asked McAuliffe in June to step in and run the party’s convention, at a time when the host committee needed a quick $7 million infusion of cash to meet their needs.

There is no doubt that McAuliffe, a tireless worker with a talent for networking — who is a close confidant of President Clinton — has been at the heart of the Democrats’ money-gathering success in recent years.

According to his own estimate, McAuliffe has raised as much as $300 million for the Clintons and for the Democratic Party, allowing Democrats to close the fund-raising gap that had existed between them and the Republicans.

Raised as a Fund-Raiser

McAuliffe, 43, was born into the fund-raising life. He grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., where his father was treasurer of the Onondaga County Democratic Party. The elder McAuliffe started taking his son to fund-raisers when Terry was five years old.

Soon after graduating from Catholic University in Washington, McAuliffe took his first political job, working for President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign. McAuliffe then rapidly moved up the ranks within the Democratic National Committee, although he did take time out to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

Politics has been so central to McAuliffe’s life that he met his future wife, Dorothy, while organizing a 1979 campaign event for Carter. They now have four children.

Protege of Coelho, Friend of Bill

McAuliffe first gained public attention for his money-raising prowess in the 1980s, when he worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under then-House Democratic Whip Tony Coelho.

Guided by Coelho’s strategy, McAuliffe and the DCCC hauled in unprecedented amounts of cash for the party by making inroads with the business world, which had not previously been a reliable backer of Democrats.

In 1994, Clinton selected McAuliffe to head his fund-raising efforts for the 1996 election. The two struck up a professional and personal rapport, to the point where McAuliffe is now in Clinton’s closest circle of friends and associates.

“I love this guy,” Clinton told an audience at — naturally — a 1999 fund-raiser.

McAuliffe has also brought in contributions for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s New York Senate campaign, and last fall, offered to put up $1.35 million of his own money to help buy the house the Clintons intended to purchase in Chappaqua, N.Y. After public criticism of the offer, the first couple opted for a more traditional mortgage instead.

McAuliffe has managed to stay free of scandal despite the ongoing inquiries into the Democrats’ 1996 campaign fund-raising practices, and despite having a wide, overlapping range of business interests, many of which involve Democratic Party donors.

He intends to keep working for the Democratic cause after President Clinton leaves office.