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The ATM for Bush's America

Factor and James Higgins, left, his co-organizer for the Monday Meeting.  

Back in the Factors’ living room, over a light lunch and white wine, Elizabeth, now a tax attorney and mother of three, is explaining the significance of her husband’s political operation. She alternates between a seductive motherly charm and a stern businesslike demeanor. Slipping into the latter, she describes the grand ambition behind her husband’s monthly soirée for conservatives. “The Monday Meeting is not about conversion,” she explains. “We’re not interested in drawing new converts. What the meeting is about is having a room where someone coming from Washington can access everything that New York conservatives have. They can access the media, they can access the donors, they can access a publicity machine, they can access a grassroots movement. It’s not about having your friend Joe, who might be a Republican and might want to give a couple of bucks, come and maybe he’ll be converted to free-market principles.”

Before the Monday Meeting could become this kind of networking tool, Mallory had to establish himself as a big-time fund-raiser. He did it by tapping into the frustration of high-dollar political donors tired of being treated like money machines by candidates parachuting into New York for withdrawals. Mining his Wall Street contacts, Factor hosted fund-raisers at his home where politicians were welcome only if they played by Mallory’s rules of etiquette: The candidate must stay through dessert, and he or she must rotate to a new table of donors for every course.

The dinners were a hit, in part because the rules were real and applied to everybody. Factor tells me that attendees at one dinner were stunned when he canceled the evening’s main attraction—a person he repeatedly describes to me as a “major player”—because he would drop into the dinner only for twenty minutes. “I said, ‘My mom always told me that when you get invited to dinner, you at least stay until dessert,’ ” Factor says. “So I canceled him. Everybody was shocked.” I ask who it was. From another room, Elizabeth’s ears perk up and she warns her husband that he was treading onto thin ice. “Let’s not even hint about it, please,” she orders. But Mallory presses on, dropping a few more hints and teasing me. “This was a major player.” When I guess that it must have been Karl Rove or Dick Cheney, he just flashes me a mischievous smile.

Along with his new mode of fund-raising (“People refer to it as a salon more than a fund-raiser,” he says), Factor needed to find his own niche within the GOP’s competitive world of buck-raking. “Remember, I want to have an impact,” he says. “So you sit down and say, ‘Well, where can you have the impact?’ ” The answer was the United States Senate. For the conservative movement, the Senate was the last frontier left to conquer in Washington. When Factor seriously entered the fund-raising fray back in 2001, the upper chamber was split down the middle between the two parties and threatened to be a graveyard for Bush’s entire agenda. “The big problem is you can’t get anything through the Senate,” says Factor. “That’s why we started focusing on it.”

In some ways, this was a novel concept for the Wall Street crowd. Factor convinced them that helping elect hickish pols with social views many Manhattan conservatives consider Neanderthal was essential. After all, if Christian conservatives could help elect the Republicans who would loosen corporate regulations, why not harness that power? So what if they also want to tinker around with the Constitution on various social issues.

Factor convinced the Wall Street crowd it could be to their benefit to help elect hickish pols with social views they might consider Neanderthal.

It worked. In the past four years, Republicans have toppled the Senate’s Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, and increased their seats from 49 to 55. “He’s in the top tier of people who helped win those Senate races in 2002 and 2004,” says Lindsey Graham, who was elected to the Senate from South Carolina in 2002. “Mallory raised a lot of money for me and others.”

“We were nine-for-nine in the last cycle,” Factor says triumphantly.

All nine of those senators, it should be noted, were carried to victory in part by their avowed opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, issues that almost never come up at the fiscally oriented Monday Meeting. In fact, though there are a smattering of hard-core abortion opponents among the regulars, most studiously ignore social issues. As far as I could determine, the Monday Meeting has never had a speaker devoted to the issue of a Supreme Court vacancy, an event that social conservatives have been preparing for as if it were Armageddon. “The paradigm of lower taxes, lower spending, smaller government—there is near-universal agreement on those points among New York conservatives,” says Rick Lazio, the former Long Island congressman who is now a JPMorgan Chase executive. “But when it comes to social issues, it’s not so much that there is a divergence of view on that, it just tends to be de-emphasized. New York conservatism is still a different brand than in other parts of the country.”