Big-money donors find their way to Obama’s reelection campaign

April 21, 2012

President Obama’s reelection campaign has been rapidly increasing the number of big money “bundlers” collecting checks for his reelection, doubling the number of financiers who have brought in at least $500,000.

The influx during the first quarter of the year shows the president is getting an especially warm embrace from Hollywood and the broader entertainment industry, partly making up for a drop in support from Wall Street after Democrats passed broad new regulations for the financial sector, according to a list of fundraisers released by the campaign on Friday.

The support comes just as Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney, is expected to get a fresh boost from donors who held out during the Republican nomination contest. In recent weeks, Romney has also started directing his backers to the Republican National Committee, which by law can accept bigger checks than his campaign.

The Obama campaign has 533 people who have each raised at least $50,000 for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee, including 90 who joined the campaign in the last quarter. The total nearly matches the 558 people who were listed as volunteer fundraisers for the 2008 campaign.

Of this year’s bundlers, 117 are in the top echelon, raising at least $500,000 each, nearly double the number the campaign reported at the end of the 2011 and more than double the 47 who reached that level in 2008.

The lengthening list of top fundraisers is a sign that bigger donors are coming off the sidelines as the outlines of the race against Romney become clear. The president has so far collected fewer big donors than Romney, instead putting the emphasis on small-dollar contributors. Well-heeled donors have been slower to match the same level of enthusiasm that drove Obama’s fundraising during the hard-fought primary in 2008.

“We’ve had to raise without the same sense of early urgency,” said Andy Spahn, a top fundraiser for Obama in Hollywood. “But the race is coming into focus and the donor community is really starting to step up.”

The campaign has 13 top fundraisers from the entertainment industry, including actor Tyler Perry, film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein. In 2008, just three of the top fundraisers hailed from the industry.

Vice President Biden was in California last week for two fundraisers. Obama is headed back to the state next month after a successful swing in February, which included a 1,000-person Foo Fighters concert in the backyard of a soap opera producer and a separate $35,800-plate dinner.

Obama will be at actor George Clooney’s house on May 10 for another high-dollar dinner, slated to be the biggest event of his reelection with an expected haul of more than $3 million.

Overall, Obama has raised at least $53 million in California, including $21 million from the Los Angeles metro area or about 10 percent of the donations listed on his disclosure filings, according to a Washington Post analysis. That’s up slightly from less than 7 percent at the same period in 2008 while other areas, including the Washington and Chicago regions, have accounted for a smaller share of Obama’s total.

An Obama campaign spokesman declined to comment.

The news is especially good for Obama because top Hollywood personalities have the deep pockets needed to make large contributions to the super PACs supporting him. So far, the main super PAC behind Obama, Priorities USA Action, has shown very weak fundraising compared with those backing Romney, raising $4.6 million in the first quarter compared to $21.7 million raised by the biggest PAC backing Romney and $49 million by two conservative groups affiliated with former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove.

Comedian Chelsea Handler, who hosts a late night talk show on the E! Entertainment Television network, gave $100,000 to Priorities USA Action, the group reported in a disclosure filing Friday. Handler joins Katzenberg, who previously gave $2 million to the group, and comedian Bill Maher, who gave $1 million.

“For people in Hollywood and the creative community I think the main motivation is advancing progressive ideas,” said Bill Burton, who runs Priorities. “Hollywood doesn’t sell more movie tickets if Obama is reelected. They deeply care about equality and the environment and a long list of things that are important to Democrats.”

Romney’s fundraising, meanwhile, is increasingly dependent on the New York City region, with more than 20 percent of the money from donations listed on his disclosure forms coming from the metropolitan area, twice as much as last time.

Lawyers, another traditional source of Democratic money, make up the biggest share of Obama’s top bundlers, about one in five. And big law firms have replaced financial houses as the biggest sources of cash for Obama. Lawyers from Sidley Austin have given $400,000 to Obama and the DNC, including $155,000 last month.

The firm is home to Obama appointee John Levi, whose wife Jill Levi is a bundler for the campaign. John Levi was included on a list of bundlers released last year in error, an Obama campaign aide said. Employees of firm Skadden Arps have given $578,000 and those of DLA Piper have given $509,000.

Two people were removed from the list of Obama fundraisers. New York lawyer Ricardo Oquendo was taken off after contributions he bundled were returned due to connections with two brothers of Pepe Cardona, a fugitive living in Mexico. Assongba Abake was also removed from the list after a Washington Post story brought attention to a lawsuit against her and her contributions were returned.

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