Hundreds of big donors, including Obama bundlers, are ‘Ready for Hillary’

Clinton’s supporters represent all major sectors of the Democratic Party’s money base


Eli Kaplan, 29, dog Mya and digital director Nickie Titus, 32, work at the offices of Ready for Hillary, a super PAC formed to encourage Clinton to run for president on June 20, 2013, in Alexandria, Va. (Mary F. Calvert/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

A diverse cadre of big money Democratic players has directed millions of dollars into a super PAC supporting a potential presidential bid by Hillary Rodham Clinton, underscoring the extent to which the party machinery is tilting in her favor.

At least 222 donors have signed up as co-chairs of Ready for Hillary’s national finance council — a commitment that requires donating or raising $25,000 each, or at least $5.55 million between them, according to a membership list obtained by The Washington Post. More than 600 other donors are considered members of the finance council, required to give or raise $5,000 each.

The Ready for Hillary fundraising team includes scores of President Obama’s biggest campaign bundlers — evidence that the rift between the two camps has healed considerably since 2008. The super PAC also features donors representing all major sectors of the Democratic Party’s money base, from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Wall Street, the list shows.

The former secretary of state, who is months way from announcing a decision about a 2016 campaign, enjoys a massive head start in assembling a finance network compared with any other candidate, Democratic or Republican. The breadth and depth of support for her campaign-in-waiting could give serious pause to any Democrat weighing a primary challenge, such as Vice President Biden or Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“If you look at the finance council as a whole, it’s very representative of what a potential Hillary Clinton campaign’s finance council will look like,” said Adam Parkhomenko, co-founder and executive director of Ready for Hillary. “You have people who’ve been supporting her for 10, 20, 30 years; you’ve got people who’ve never made a contribution to any political campaign before; and you have people who were really active in 2008 and 2012 for President Obama’s campaigns.”


Ready for Hillary Executive Director Adam Parkhomenko and communications director Seth Bringman are seen at the super PAC’s offices in Alexandria. (Mary F. Calvert/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Shortly after November’s midterms elections, Ready for Hillary plans to hold a national finance council meeting in New York to discuss the super PAC’s future and Clinton’s potential campaign, officials said. While Ready for Hillary can’t coordinate with a campaign, it could probably rent or exchange its lists of supporters and donors, campaign finance experts say.

The group has positioned itself as the repository of grass-roots support for Clinton, with many backers giving symbolic gifts of $20.16. But its membership list shows it is being bolstered substantially by big donors. Of the $8.2 million the super PAC reported raising through the end of June, just under $3 million came from donors who gave less than $200, according to a Post analysis of Federal Election Commission reports.

The super PAC’s finance council includes Hollywood players (legendary sitcom producer Marcy Carsey and “Homeland” and “24” producer Howard Gordon), technology entrepreneurs (Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and Enscient Corp. founder Shelly Kapoor Collins), gay rights activists (Tim Gill and Jon Stryker), trial lawyers (Dallas lawyer Marc Stanley), Wall Street financiers (former Goldman Sachs partner Daniel Neidich) and billionaire heavyweights (hedge fund guru George Soros and philanthropist Eli Broad).

Ready for Hillary’s leaders have made concerted efforts to woo key backers of Obama’s campaigns to make the case that Democrats who were bitterly divided in 2008 will unite behind Clinton. The invitation for a $1,000-per-ticket reception at an upscale Chicago steakhouse in June was co-hosted by longtime Clinton friend Kevin O’Keefe, who ran her Illinois effort in 2008, as well as high-profile Obama bundlers Alan Solow and Laura Ricketts.

“We were careful to show a unified group, so many people important to her and Obama were all together,” said Kevin Conlon, a public affairs executive who helped organize the reception.

Fifty major fundraisers who served on Obama’s 769-member national finance committee in 2012 already have signed on as co-chairs or members of Ready for Hillary’s finance council, according to the Post analysis.

Among them are Benioff, Gill, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, New Jersey public relations executive Michael Kempner, technology investor Steve Spinner and former California state controller Steve Westly.

The corps of former Obama backers also includes Ursula Terrasi, who runs a home store in Kansas City, Mo. She said she was drawn to Obama as a candidate — meeting him during the 2008 campaign, she said, “was the most exciting thing.” But now she is lining up behind Clinton, whom she said she has “admired from afar.”

“I feel it’s time for a woman president,” said Terrasi, who as a Ready for Hillary co-chair hosted a Kansas City fundraiser that drew some 250 people.

The coalescing of deep-pocketed donors around Ready for Hillary is particularly remarkable given the existence of a different super PAC, Priorities USA Action, that Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and other Clinton backers have deemed as the preferred vehicle for big money. After some initial tension between the two groups, Ready for Hillary agreed to voluntarily cap its donations at $25,000.

Priorities USA, meanwhile, has held off fundraising efforts in order not to siphon funds away from the super PACs working to back congressional Democrats in the midterms. So far this cycle, it has collected less than $6,000 in individual contributions, while giving $250,000 each to the Senate and House super PACs.

But the midterms haven’t slowed down Ready for Hillary. The group has made donations to several state parties and, once Clinton hits the campaign trail this fall, will assist candidates she endorses.

“We’ll echo her,” Parkhomenko said. “We’re going to take that energy and excitement around a potential Hillary Clinton candidacy and put that into action around 2014.”

While the vast majority of the super PAC’s 90,000 donors have given small sums, more than half of Ready for Hillary’s money — nearly $4.8 million through the end of June — came from 1,018 contributors who each gave the organization more than $500, officials said.

Many Ready for Hillary co-chairs hail from outside the world of Clinton loyalists. They include New York art dealer Larry Gagosian, who gave money to support Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, and Northern California philanthropists John and Marcia Goldman, major Democratic benefactors who have given thousands to the party’s congressional super PACs.

Other co-chairs are relatively new to big-money politics: Sharon Elghanayan Corzine, who is married to former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, had only written a few large checks in the past before giving Ready for Hillary $25,000 at the end of March.

But the Ready for Hillary leadership also includes plenty of Hillaryland stalwarts: Esprit clothing line founder Susie Tompkins Buell, former congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, Democratic National Committee official Carol Pensky, Washington philanthropist Edie Fraser and former State Department adviser Shelly Porges.

“It is like a groundswell,” Pensky said. “Once she actually announces, I do think it’s going to be incredible to see the support that is going to come her way.”

Fraser said that she and other Clinton friends make a point not to talk about their fundraising efforts with Clinton for fear of getting into murky legal waters. Federal election laws prevent candidates from directly coordinating with super PACs.

“There’s basically an arm’s-length reach,” Fraser said. “I don’t think any of us talk to her about Ready for Hillary.”

The super PAC also provides a way for longtime Clinton fundraisers — as well as newcomers — to get in early on what they see as her all-but-certain 2016 campaign.

Dan Kessler was only 18 when Clinton ran for president the first time. Now, at age 24, he is a Ready for Hillary finance council co-chair and organized a fundraiser at a Philadelphia nightclub that drew 400 young professionals. Kessler said he has helped put together similar events in Boston, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

Kessler said he first met the Clintons as a child; his father, Alan, is a prominent Democratic fundraiser who has backed Bill or Hillary Clinton’s campaigns since the 1980s. He said he feels “a real driving predicate of galvanizing this youth involvement across the country.”

“Nothing’s certain,” Kessler said, “but if and when she decides to run, I feel that the networks that I’ve built across the country are going to be tremendous.”

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
Matea Gold covers money in politics for The Washington Post.
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