For Reston resident Karl Ingebritson, writing a $700 check to the John Kerry presidential campaign was a tangible contribution in what he sees as a crucial fight to unseat President George W. Bush.
"I'm 72 years old and this is the most important election of my lifetime," said Ingebritson, a transportation consultant. "This country has seriously gone off course and I'm going to do everything I can to send Mr. Bush back to Crawford, Texas."
Ingebritson's campaign contribution to the Kerry campaign was a small portion of more than $120,000 donated by Reston residents to the Bush and Kerry campaigns, according to a compilation of federal campaign finance records by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit and non-partisan organization.
During the 2004 election cycle, 55 Reston residents have contributed $68,520 to the Bush re-election effort, while 68 Reston residents have given $51,800 to Kerry's campaign.
The contributors represent a broad cross section of Reston life, comprising of people from all ages and numerous professions, including college professors, retirees, attorneys, lobbyists and corporate executives.
Bush recieved more than twice the number of $2,000 checks, which is the maximum contribution allowed under federal campaign finance rules for both the primary and general election. Kerry, on the other hand, recieved smaller donations from a greater number of citizens.
THAT TREND in Reston political contributions reflects the national campaign finance strategies by the two campaigns, said Mark Rozell, a politics professor at George Mason University.
The Bush campaign uses a network of "Pioneers," who bundle together contributions of at least $100,000 for the campaign, and "Rangers," who raise at least $200,000. The Pioneers and Rangers use their connections to funnel numerous $2,000 checks to the re-election effort, earning their status with the campaign.
"They're the masters at bundling," Rozell said. "Bush is the most successful fundraiser in history."
As for Kerry, he is bringing in more small contributions, and his campaign is matching Bush's efforts through the campaigning of independent "Section 527" organizations, which have no contribution limits and can hold election events and distribute mailings advocating for Kerry and denouncing Bush.
RESTON ATTORNEY Andrew McBride, who wrote the Bush campaign a $2,000 check last year, said he believes the country is on the right course and he wanted to lend his support to keep it that way.
"I think the president has done a good job and I want him to continue," McBride said.
Critics are focusing too much on Iraq, McBride said, while the Bush Administration has made headway on other fronts of the War on Terror. Pakistan is now a close U.S. ally, he pointed out, and Libya has pledged to end its nuclear weapons program thanks to Bush Administration negotiations.
"Kerry isn't tough enough on national security," McBride said. "I agree with the president. We need to take the war to them."
But for another Bush campaign supporter, the war has caused a reversal of opinion. Reston attorney William Nicoson, who cut the Bush campaign a $2,000 check last fall, said revelations about how intelligence was exaggerated in the run-up to war and the slumping economy has made him regret helping the Bush campaign.
"Do I regret it? You betcha," Nicoson said. "He got us into a war we should have never been in and he's wasted American lives and tax money."
Nicoson said he plans to vote for Kerry this November.
CONTRIBUTING to presidential campaigns is generally intended to be a greater show of support for a candidate than simply voting, Rozell said.
"Mostly it's a way for people to express their political view," he said. "It's more tangible than a vote in a sense."
For interest groups and lobbyists, political contributions are seen as a way to gain access to politicians, he said.
"It doesn't guarantee results, but they'll answer the phone," he said. "Some people just see the money in politics, but it's cynical to think it's the only thing that matters."