Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, says he's no fund-raiser. But his first fund-raiser ever attracted plenty of attention in Washington Tuesday.
Part of it was because few incumbent members of Congress could say they had never had a fund-raiser - as Orton could until Tuesday, because he paid for most of his $88,500 campaign last year with his own money.But most of the attention came because of creative invitations (which were even reprinted in the Washington Post), unusually low cost, unusually cheap food served, inviting even a few Republicans and inviting a few people Orton thought could not afford its cost to come for free.
Orton's top aide, Billie Larson, thought many fund-raiser invitations she saw passing through her office from other House members were boring - and she wanted one that would be noticed. So she had a cartoon made for the cover showing Orton pulling out empty pants pockets.
She said the idea was to convey that Orton didn't have any money, period. The Washington Post thought it was different enough from the usually formal, staid invitations that it reprinted it - which also helped attendance.
"Everyone in Washington will probably recognize me now as long as I go around like this," Orton joked as he pulled out his pants pockets - which were indeed empty.
Helping attendance even more was the relatively low admission price. While some members of Congress ask $300 to $500 for a fund-raiser, Orton asked $50 from individuals and $300 from political action committees.
Ellen Williams, a former Utahn who is now a school principal in Maryland and is a Republican, received one of the invitations. She said she normally wouldn't go to a Democrat's fund-raiser, but for $50 she wanted to go and watch.
Orton said sending invitations to some Republicans wasn't an accident. "I think Republicans and Democrats will like me when they get to know me. The whole purpose of this is to get to know people." And in his heavy Republican district, he can't win unless many Republicans vote for him.
He added that he invited several people who likely could not afford it to come anyway. "I'm no fund-raiser," he said.
While most fund-raising events are catered with fancy food, Orton's featured barbecue sandwiches, nacho chips and drinks - which helped cut costs.
And while most fund-raisers aim to raise at least $50,000, Orton said, "I think I would call it a success if we raised $10,000 or $15,000." His staff did not know how much was raised Tuesday, but the turnout was healthy.
Orton said he wishes he could run his next campaign as cheaply as his first - where he spent less than $90,000 on a mostly grass-roots campaign while Republican Karl Snow spent more than $300,000.
"But that is unrealistic. With the cost of TV and answering charges from the opponent, I guess any campaign will cost at least $250,000." That too may be cheap - like his fund-raiser, its food and admission. After all, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, spent more than $900,000 last year.