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Back in March, Bar Association of San Francisco President Jeffrey Bleich predicted that the new executive director’s political fund-raising experience would be a major plus. Looks like he was right. Martha Whetstone’s tenure as director and general counsel got off to a strong start Wednesday with a crowded lunchtime speech given by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts. For Kerry, it was a chance to preach — mainly to his choir — and bolster support in a prime cash-giving constituency. After opening with a few jokes, he set out to paint a picture of himself as the antithesis of President Bush. He bashed Bush’s proposed tax cuts and economic agenda and described himself as an “ardent environmentalist” and protector of constitutional rights. He also had harsh words for Attorney General John Ashcroft. “I will appoint an attorney general that has a full measure of respect for the Constitution of the United States,” Kerry said to loud applause. The success of her first event for BASF speaks to Whetstone’s ability to land big-ticket speakers. She is the former political director for the Democratic National Committee and also worked on the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and Bill Clinton. Whetstone said that Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., would be the next speaker in the series. The events are expected to be a boon for cash-strapped BASF in a time of waning donations. About 525 people paid for Wednesday’s seats, which ranged from $65 to $75, and BASF expects the event to rake in about $15,000. Jacob Schwarz, 30, a corporate lawyer at Thoits, Love, Hershberger & McLean in Palo Alto, drove into town for the event. “It’s a great opportunity to see a presidential candidate at a non-exorbitant cost, and it’s not a fund-raiser,” he said. The event did indeed bring in an influx of new people to a BASF event, and some onlookers commented that the event was not comprised of the typical BASF crowd. Jeffrey Brand, dean of University of San Francisco School of Law, said he came because he was interested in Kerry but also because of Whetstone, who is a USF graduate. “She arranged for Clinton to speak at the law school in 1985. Martha has had an immediate impact on the bar,”he said. Despite Whetstone’s obvious political leanings, she said the event was not a Democratic fund-raiser and that all proceeds were going to support BASF. In addition, while the only candidates slated to appear now are Democrats, Whetstone said BASF had also extended an invitation to President Bush. In an Arkansas drawl, Whetstone dryly told the group she hopes that “after things die down for [Bush] some, the White House will take a serious look at our invitation.” Added Whetstone, “Who wouldn’t want to talk to a bunch of San Francisco lawyers?” Alan Ramos, 56, a lawyer at MacDonald & Associates in San Francisco, said he attended the event because he wanted to see if Kerry could clearly differentiate himself from the pack of candidates. “What’s missing from the Democrats is a clear message, which has allowed the Republicans to set the agenda.” He added, “I’m glad it’s not a fund-raiser. I’m not ready to contribute to anyone yet.” Other attorneys in attendance were drawn to the event because of Kerry’s outspoken opposition to the way the Bush administration has handled the war in Iraq. “I am happy that a few senators have come out with opposition to the war,” said Winnifred Ward, 39, an attorney at Shartsis, Friese & Ginsburg. “And this event gives me the opportunity to gather more information as a voter.” In addition to Sen. Edwards and other Democratic candidates, Bleich said BASF is also inviting Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

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