The College Republican National Committee has raised $6.3 million this year through an aggressive and misleading fund-raising campaign that collected money from senior citizens who thought they were giving to the election efforts of President Bush and other top Republicans.
Many of the top donors were in their 80s and 90s. The donors wrote checks — sometimes hundreds and, in at least one case, totaling more than $100,000 — to groups with official sounding-names such as "Republican Headquarters 2004," "Republican Elections Committee" and the "National Republican Campaign Fund."
But all of those groups, according to the small print on the letters, were simply projects of the College Republicans, who collected all of the checks.
"All the kids that were the head of this organization, they would keep saying, 'You've got to keep on or we won't be able to keep up with Kerry.' So they kept on me," said a retired bookkeeper who was one of the group's most generous donors.
She spoke on the condition she not be identified.
She grew concerned when repeated letters came earlier this year asking for donations for a "Republican Headquarters 2004 Membership Card."
The card was merely a block of text inside a dotted line on the back of the letter. The holder was supposed to cut it out and carry it with her.
But the letter was infused with urgency.
"If I do not have your completed RH membership renewal form within the next ten days, your membership will be put on suspension," one letter said.
"President Bush cannot afford your membership and involvement in the Republican Party to be wavering at this crucial time."
The group wanted a donation of $25 to $500 for the card. If the donor declined, he or she was urged to send at least $5 "to cover the cost of having the card printed for you."
"You had to pay something for the membership card," the retired bookkeeper said. "I sent in four different checks to him and every time he said he didn't receive them."
The four checks totaled $1,105.
"He kept saying he was going to cancel me. He was constantly asking for money."