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In addition to helping publicize Walter Shorenstein's social life, the Chronicle Publishing Co. has helped pay for it: The newspaper is listed along with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, City Attorney Louise Renne, socialite Ann Getty and the Shorenstein Company itself as a sponsor of the Catholic Youth Organization's 1994 awards banquet in honor of Shorenstein.
And chances are, when Walter Shorenstein's name appears in the dailies, it's in connection with political fundraising. Because more than anything else - certainly, in any case, on the national stage - Walter Shorenstein is known for writing checks to Democrats.
Here's Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, on the CYO dinner's videotaped tribute to Walter Shorenstein:
"I wish I could be with all of you in person tonight but it's a privilege to join you by video in honoring our great friend. No one is more deserving of our tributes and praise. Few people have done as much for their community and their country, and as all of you know we wouldn't have a Democratic Party without Walter Shorenstein."
Now, the idea of a very rich person being a Democrat is a novelty to some. In a pragmatists's view, however, it makes sense, if the rich person in question is a developer. That's because building things requires close compliance with local laws. Local laws are, by and large, passed by local politicians, who tend to be Democrats.
Since 1980, Walter Shorenstein has given $297,410 to Democratic members of Congress and presidential candidates, according to the Center for Reponsive Politics, in Washington D.C. His now-deceased wife, Phyllis, doled out $141,403 during the same 15 years. His son, Douglas, dropped $67,280; his daughter, Carole, furnished $16,000 from 1979-1984; Douglas' wife, Lydia, provided $2,780; and employees of the Shorenstein Company supplied at least $14,087.
And that's just direct contributions to candidates, limited by law to $2,000 each election. The true measure of Walter Shorenstein's checkbook democracy comes in another form: the fundraising dinner. Getting rich people to py $2,500 to sit at a table with a candidate is an art form in American politics, and no Democrat succeeds at it like Shorenstein. Then, too, there are the $100,000 donations to so-called "soft money" organziations, which rake in the green stuff to spread around like cheese on a cocktail party canape. And then there are the dollars missing from the database because they're almost ancient history. In 1968, for example, Walter Shorenstein "raised more money than any other American for Hubert Humphrey," longtime San Francisco political consultant Duanne Garrett says. "I had Humphrey tell me once that Walter had almost made the difference between victory and defeat. He's been a huge player in American presidential politics ever since and he's been a big player for Congress. He's been close to every speaker, every majority leader."
Not to mention presidents: "Walter has found time to be active in Democratic politics. I am but one of many politicians who owe a great debt to him," Jimmy Carter said on the CYO video tribute.
And vice presidents: "Thank you for being a friend," Al Gore said.
"He's always played in all the venues," Garrett says. "I've heard three separate Democratic presidential candidates call Walter Shorenstein 'Mr. Democrat.'"
And in at least one case, it would have been possible to call the Democratic Party "Mr. Shorenstein."
In the mid-'80s, Walter Shorenstein formed a political action committee - still up and running - called Agenda for the '90s. Like all PACs, the point of Agenda for the '90s is to raise money for politicians. During the first years of Agenda for the '90s, he used the PAC, formed with labor leader Bruce Lee, to pour money into the California Democratic Party.
"It was huge, the last term that I was chairman," remembers Los Angeles attorney Peter Kelly, who was chair of the state party while Michael Dukasis was running for president. "We did three $1 million-plus dinners in 13 months." And ran the money through party accounts, Kelly says.
Then the party leadership changed, as happens every few years. Kelly was out as chairman: Jerry Brown was in. Agenda for the '90s kept raising money for Democratic candidates, as it always had, but there was a twist: The money went straight to the candidates.
"People didn't trust Jerry Brown's judgement," says Burton, the state representative, hinself the recipient of Shorenstein donations. "Walter was not going to go out and raise money for Jerry Brown to do with what he wished. People who raise money like to have a say in how it's spent.
"It just happened," Burton explains. "Except for Jerry Brown, I don't think anybody in public office was upset with what Walter did."
Of course, getting to choose which candidates receive money from a powrful political action committee is not entirely dissimilar to getting to choose who runs for office, which is the province of machine politics. And that is something that at least one other Shorenstein - Hymie Shorenstein, of 1930s Brroklyn - knew a little bit about.