Tuesday, July 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle banker joins party's elite as new breed of fund-raiser

Seattle Times chief political reporter

BOSTON — Back home in Seattle, Joseph Schocken could probably walk through a political event and not be bothered for a campaign donation or consulted about national economic policy.

Top state party officials and Washington congressional members didn't recognize his name when asked this week.

But in Boston, among the highest of political high rollers, the Seattle investment banker is known by national Democratic leaders as one of the most generous donors and successful fund-raisers in the country, having brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There's likely not a soirée Schocken couldn't get into during the Democratic National Convention. And in Boston this week, that's as good a measure of political station as anything else.

It's been a rapid rise through the world of political finance. As recently as 1996, Schocken was making $250 contributions. Three years ago, he considered himself an independent, an assessment backed up by his wife, Judy, who says it wasn't unusual for her steadfast liberalism to clash with her husband's more iconoclastic politics.

Amid "household names"

Today, he can talk about helping to write John Edwards' economic plan, weekends on Nantucket with John and Teresa Heinz Kerry and small dinners he attends with the high-level National Advisory Board of the Democratic National Committee.

He talks as if he's not quite used to it all.

"These guys are pretty influential," he said of the advisory board of 30 or so people. "With this exception," he said, gesturing to himself, "they are household names."

One of the authors of Congress' campaign-finance-reform bill said the appearance of Schocken and people like him is a sign the 2002 campaign-finance-reform legislation, which banned unlimited contributions to political parties, is working.

"It used to be for someone to be known, they had to give $1 million or $2 million," said U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass. "Now, someone can call the people they know and collect smaller donations, and that makes that person important.

"You have to do more than just go to the same old people for the unlimited contributions. The whole party has shifted its focus from satisfying the craving for soft money."

The McCain-Feingold law set a $25,000 limit for gifts to the party for voter registration and organizing. Independent political groups can still take in six-figure contributions, but they have to operate separately from the parties.

While campaign-finance reform may have helped bring a new class of top fund-raisers to politics, Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an expert in campaign finance, said strident anti-Bush feelings also have motivated the new donors.

A personal link to Iraq

"Certainly the war had an influence," Schocken said of his political activism.

At 57, he's president of Broadmark Capital, a Seattle investment firm he started in 1987. Raised in Seattle, he graduated from the University of Washington and holds a Harvard MBA.

His wife and their four children have shaped his political activism, particularly daughter Trea, a captain in the Marine Corps who has served a tour of duty in Iraq.

Schocken recognizes that it's unusual for a top political donor — someone of wealth — to have a child serving in the active military. Trea went to the U.S. Naval Academy, with cadets Schocken said "are just the most outstanding Americans ever."

When she returned from Iraq in March, he was on the ship with her after it stopped in Hawaii. "Obviously, they didn't all come back," Schocken said.

Daughter Celina is an adviser to the Ministry of Health in Rwanda, and Schocken said he has been unhappy with the Bush administration's policies on AIDS and women's issues.

Schocken was not surprised to learn state party people didn't recognize his name.

"We're more interested in national issues than state or local issues," he said.

And when he decided to make significant donations, he turned to the Democratic National Committee because he figured that was the best way to help party candidates win on a national basis.

DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe calls Schocken a "great friend."

"His energy and tireless efforts have been a real asset to our campaign and our cause," McAuliffe said.

This campaign cycle, Schocken has donated about $58,000, including $50,000 to the DNC and contributions to Kerry, Sen. Patty Murray and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire. In 2000, he gave $100,000 to the DNC for party-building and $5,000 for campaigns.

After giving his own money, Schocken began to solicit others for the DNC. When he raised $250,000, he was named one of the party's 17 "trustees" in the country.

He said he doesn't know how much he has raised so far, but by November it will be a number "considerably higher" than $250,000.

The Schockens have spent time with Kerry and his wife, and said they see a side to the candidate that doesn't always come out in the media.

"I think he's funnier," Judy Schocken said.

Added her husband: "He's an unbelievably bright guy and he is warm and he is funny and he really cares."

Fund raising, Schocken said, isn't fun. "But if it's important to you, it sort of dulls the pain."

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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