“I refuse to apologize for trying to create a level playing field with the Republicans,” he said. “I don’t see why Democrats year in and year out should operate at a competitive disadvantage.”
In 1988, Mr. Dukakis raised more money than his Republican rival, George H. W. Bush, but lost the election.
In 2010, in a lawsuit filed by Citizens United, a conservative group, the United States Supreme Court ruled that government restrictions on independent political spending by corporations and unions violated constitutional free speech guarantees.
A retired self-made millionaire publisher of legal and technical manuals, Mr. Farmer was an enrolled Republican until 1980, when he contributed $1,000 to the presidential campaign of Representative John B. Anderson, an Illinois Republican. After Mr. Anderson abandoned the party to become an independent, Mr. Farmer followed suit. When Mr. Anderson lost, Mr. Farmer became a Democrat.
He was an indefatigable fund-raiser whose efforts in the 1988 primaries gave Mr. Dukakis an insurmountable organizational advantage and an intimidating war chest to buy television advertising.
Instead of focusing on the legal maximum $1,000 in contributions that individuals were allowed to give, Mr. Farmer created a nationwide network of 900 of Mr. Dukakis’s supporters who agreed to raise $10,000 or more from friends, family and business associates.
“It’s like I’ve set up a bunch of franchises around the country and I’m the home office,” he said. “I provide backup and support. The secret is giving people responsibility and holding them accountable.”
He was a consummate schmoozer; Mr. Clinton once said that Mr. Farmer “could talk an owl out of a tree.”
Mr. Farmer concurred. “You can’t be bashful in this business,” he said.
His rivals were envious. In 1988, David Garth, the media adviser to Al Gore’s campaign for the Democratic nomination, suggested that Mr. Dukakis was leading in the primaries largely because of Mr. Farmer’s fund-raising prowess. He predicted, however, that Mr. Dukakis would be a mediocre candidate in the general election. His solution: Nominate Senator Gore and appoint Mr. Farmer as his secretary of the Treasury.
“Farmer might be able to solve the deficit problem in an afternoon,” Mr. Garth said.
Robert Allen Farmer was born on Sept. 20, 1938, in Bay Village, Ohio, on Lake Erie west of Cleveland. His father, Sterling, was vice president of…