Politics

Obama’s champagne march to 2012

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s controversial meeting with supporters in the White House’s Blue Room on March 7 included 16 attendees who collected at least $3.95 million for his 2012 election race.

Sixteen of the meeting’s attendees are listed as wealthy donors in a report posted at Obama’s campaign’s website on July 15. One of the attendees raised between $50,000 and $100,000, six attendees raised between $50,000 and $100,000, four raised between $200,000 and $500,000 and five raised more than $500,000. These donors are called “bundlers” because they amass donations from friends for the campaign.

The March 7 meeting is being criticized by Republicans as possibly violating campaign-finance laws that bar the use of government property for political fundraising.

On July 11, for example, California Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, called for an investigation into the meeting, asked for information from the White House, and called for the preservation of documents related to any campaign-related events hosted by administration officials.

“These fund-raising activities appear to be part of a broader Administration strategy to maximize campaign donations for the upcoming campaign while simultaneously using officials resources to suppress the fund-raising of potential political opponents,” Issa wrote in the July 11 letter.

Three of the biggest bundlers at the March 7 Blue Room meeting were Jon Corzine, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs who lost his New Jersey governorship to Republican Chris Christie in 2009, Blair Effron, a partner at Centerview Partners investment-firm, and Michael Kempner, CEO at MWW Group, a PR firm that helps companies manage PR tasks required by extensive government regulation.

All 30 attendees donated to the 2008 Obama campaign. (SNL alum says Obama is ‘basically Hitler’)

Federal regulations limit the annual donations that an individual can make to a political candidate or other political committee. Each individual can only donate a maximum of $68,500 per year, including $2,500 to a candidate for a primary and another $2,500 for the election race.

On Friday, the campaign named 244 wealthy bundlers who provided at least 40 percent, or at least $35 million, of the $86 million that Obama collected for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee in April, May and June. The 16 Blue Room donors are included in this list.

The list of 244 bundlers paints a very different picture from the populist image painted by Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina, who declared that “98 percent of all donations that came in were $250 or less.”

In the days before the financial period ended, the campaign vigorously solicited $3 and $5 donations in exchange for a chance to win one of four tickets to a dinner with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. By attracting many small donations, this lottery may have sharply reduced the percentage of donations that came from wealthy donors.

The campaign has kept much information secret. For instance, it has not released how much money the wealthy donors actually gave to the campaign.

The amount donated by these wealthy bundlers is likely much higher than the minimum of $35 million. (Leaders with Ginni Thomas: Sen. Marco Rubio)

For example, if each of the 217 lower-performing bundlers collected the maximum in their up-to-$100,000, up-to-$200,000 and up-to-$500,000 categories, their collective total would reach $60 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C.-based group that tracks political donations. If the top 27 bundlers also collected an average of $1 million, rather than the minimum $500,000, the total would rise another $13.5 million. If both scenarios were true, the bundlers’ contribution reaches 85 percent of the Obama campaign’s income.

If the same scenarios are applied to the 16 Blue Room donors, they would have raised $6.1 million for the campaign. If each of the 16 bundlers donated enough to reach the mid-way point in their bracket, and the five $500-plus donors gave an average of $600,000 each, the group donated a total of $5.4 million.

Obama’s huge income from the wealthy reflects a shift in the nation’s economy and politics. Traditional industry — such as energy, main street banking, insurance, manufacturing and retail — still donate much money to the GOP. But an increasing share of the nation’s wealth is being earned by the investment, culture, Internet and legal industries, all of which lean strongly Democratic.

In the 2008 election, for example, Obama pulled in far more money from Wall Street and the information technology industries than did GOP candidate Arizona Sen. John McCain. Also, Obama won 52 percent of the votes from people earning $200,000 or more, roughly 15 points more than Sen. John Kerry won in the 2004 presidential election.

There’s evidence that some of these wealthy supporters have lurched away from Obama since 2009, partly because of his criticism of industry, and his frequent calls for tax-increases on “millionaires and billionaires” and on people who earn more than $200,000 per year.

But the March 7 Blue Room meeting was largely drawn from this wealthy group, and even included one donor named Richard Richman, a real-estate mogul and investment banker. His company is titled The Richman Group, and is based on Greenwich, Conn.

The Blue Room meeting was arranged by the Democratic National Committee. White House officials said no fundraising was conducted during the meeting, so it did not violate federal rules against using government property to raise political funds.

Obama’s intensive fundraising actions mimic those of President Bill Clinton, who rewarded top donors with overnight stays in the White House, including nights in the bedroom named after Republican President Abraham Lincoln.

Issa also sent a July 13 letter to the DNC, and asked for copies of DNC documents related to the March 7 Blue Room event and other possible uses of government property for fundraising. The letter establishes the legal framework for a subsequent subpoena of DNC documents. “Please provide the requested documents and information as soon as possible, but no later than 5:00 p.m. on July 27, 2011,” said Issa’s letter.