Chicago power elite: Bluhm family digs deep, raises cash for Obama

Melissa Quinn | Contributor

The Chicago political machine is as well-oiled as ever, as President Obama maintains his small coalition of Chi-town contributors who have donated large sums of money throughout his political career.

Starting with  his political debut in 1995, Obama has left a paper trail of contributors including his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and high-powered attorneys from across the city. As the president has made his way from state senator to commander-in-chief, many of his wealthy friends continue their support, donating thousands every year and hosting fundraisers that rake in anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.

Obama’s largest local following, though, comes in the “Arrested Development” form of a real-life Bluth family: the Bluhms, led by patriarch Neil Bluhm and his children Andrew, Leslie and Meredith.

The elder Bluhm made his fortune in the real estate industry as co-founder of JMB Realty, and is estimated to be worth billions. Reaching his hand into the political pot, he gave the maximum allowable personal donation during Obama’s fist White House run in 2008, and this year has raised between $200,000 and $500,000 through sponsored fundraisers for the president. On June 1, Bluhm hosted one such event with a $2,500 admission fee.

In May, Bluhm spread his Chicago roots and expanded to Los Angeles, where his company is mired in controversy surrounding a subway tunnel proposed to run under Beverly Hills High School. Locals are outraged.

“JMB Realty, owner of land on which the station would be built if Metro has its way, will get $38.7 million for just a small portion of its entire tract at the corner of Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, The Beverly Hills Courier reported May 11. “The entire tract was valued at only $18.8 million by the Los Angeles County Assessor in 2011.”

In a front-page headline, the newspaper called the deal a “$38.7 million payoff.”

The tunnel project is overseen by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has been the beneficiary of campaign fundraisers JMB has hosted. Because the tunnel is going to make JMB — and Bluhm — millions of dollars, the president’s biggest supporter is happy.

Villaraigosa is also the chair of the Democratic National Convention and a major political ally of the president whose name has been floated as a potential cabinet pick in a second Obama presidential term.

Bluhm, in the meantime, continues to raise money for Obama, and was the host of the president’s 50th birthday party, at $30,000 per plate. He has also convinced his children to open their wallets.

At a 2003 fundraiser hosted on Dec. 3, both Andrew and Leslie made contributions of $3,000 and $1,500, respectively. On the same day, William Wolf, husband of Meredith Bluhm, contributed $3,000 to Obama’s senatorial race. 

Andrew, a partner for Delware Street Capital in Chicago, donated thousands of dollars to Obama between 2003 and 2008. Bluhm also made a contribution of $30,400 to the Democratic National Committee in 2010 and gave $35,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2011. Andrew has followed closely in his father’s footsteps, donating more than $100,000 to left-wing politicians.

Andrew Bluhm declined to comment.

His sister Leslie has also made a stamp in the finances of various democrats, giving more than $100,000. Leslie is the founder of Chicago Cares, a community service organization that places volunteers at organizations and in programs around the city.

Following her brother’s lead, she donated $35,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in April 2011, and then $15,000 more earlier this year.

Both Leslie and her father have been listed among the most powerful people in Chicago. On Friday, Neil was named one of the “100 Most Powerful Chicagoans”; Leslie made the 2011 “Chicagoans of the Year” list. Both have made their mark as powerful backers of Obama.

The third Bluhm, Meredith, donated $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund in September 2011. Her husband, William, gave the president $3,000 in 2003, and then donated again in 2004 and 2010.

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