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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Doyenne of the Dollars

She's got connections, and she throws great parties. Can Beth Dozoretz bring Democrats the dough?

By Viveca Novak/TIME

TIME magazine

It's a snarky, vicious, glory-thieving place, the world of big-bucks political fund raising. Ostensible grownups can be reduced to screaming toddlers over who gets the credit for bringing in a major donor's gift--and thus gets the inside track for a better seat at the next big soiree. Bring into this piranha tank an attractive, ambitious, wealthy woman who made an almost instant connection with the President and his wife, and the knives start flashing.

Some in her own party call Beth Dozoretz, the Democrats' chief fund raiser, an arriviste, "wily and calculating," in the words of a colleague. There's the zealous way she plays hostess: soon after moving to Washington in 1994, she began holding frequent fund raisers at her posh Georgetown apartment, causing some to dub her a Pamela Harriman wannabe. There's the palatial home hopping: in 1996 she and her husband bought Senator John Warner's former home for more than $2 million, then sold it before moving in so they could snag Michael and Arianna Huffington's digs for twice the price. Then there's her habit of turning up next to Bill Clinton regularly at party events. Last year she named Clinton her baby girl's godfather, throwing a party for the infant that drew an array of Hollywood and political pals, plus a rabbi, a nun and a swami.

"To be painted as this unbelievably overaggressive woman who had this master plan--I guess it goes with the territory but it's a little disconcerting," says Dozoretz, who in March was named finance chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee and is running a nonstop schedule of big-money events. This week it's a planned roast at her home for Terry McAuliffe, the capo di tutti capi of Democratic fund raisers. At $25,000 a couple, the expected take: more than $3 million.

Her defenders say she is a warm, upbeat motivator and an impassioned Democrat. "She works with a sense of urgency, and she links the investment with the goals," says former party chairman Steve Grossman. "It requires an almost crazy level of commitment," says 1997 finance chairman Alan Solomont, "and Beth has that." The stakes for 2000 are high, with a chance to regain control of the House, along with the presidential race. The D.N.C. has spent two years recovering from the 1996 fund-raising scandals; its debt soared to more than $16 million, mostly because of legal fees. (The debt was whittled down to $6.5 million by the end of 1998.)

Dozoretz, 48, grew up in Worcester, Mass.; her mother was a homemaker, her father a dentist, teacher and sometime inventor. She rose from the retail-sales floor to become president of a women's clothier in New York City. By 1989, only in her late 30s, she had been twice divorced and was financially comfortable enough to contemplate retiring. Then, at a party, she met Ron Dozoretz, head of FHC Health Systems, a large behavioral-health, managed-care outfit. (His estimated net worth, according to Virginia Business magazine: $250 million.) He proposed two weeks after their first date, and she moved with her new husband to Norfolk, Va.

In 1992 Ron took the previously apolitical Beth to the Democratic Convention, where, from her seat in Madison Square Garden, Dozoretz recalls watching Hillary Rodham Clinton rise to go to the podium. Their eyes locked "for an instant," Dozoretz swears. "There was a connection there." Bill Clinton's speech floored her. "I'm an extremely spiritual person. I think there are no accidents in life." She soon met the Clintons and before long was playing golf with the President, having private dinners with the First Couple and visiting them at Camp David and Martha's Vineyard.

As the friendship deepened, so did Dozoretz's party involvement. Now the fund raisers at her home are so frequent that angry neighbors block off their curbs to frustrate those using her valet parking. Even before she took the D.N.C. job, she and her husband had raised more than $5 million for Democratic causes. Though she claims to abhor the competitiveness of major fund raising, she can play by its rules. In 1997 she told House investigators she was sure former D.N.C. fund raiser John Huang hadn't asked for donations at a certain White House coffee: "I would have been very sensitive," she said, to "my donors being solicited by anybody but me." The party is counting on her steeliness to help top the $210 million it raised for the '96 race. McAuliffe, for one, believes she'll succeed. "She goes up to that shabby little [D.N.C.] office every day and makes the calls," and she's persistent and creative. Maybe just as important, he adds, "she's tough enough" to hold off the piranhas.


Cover Date: June 14, 1999

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