“Our campaign is fueled by donations from more than 1 million Americans, 98 percent of which were in amounts of $250 or less,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
The Obama campaign is receiving a higher percentage of its money from small donors than it did in 2008, something that has encouraged supporters. But his fundraising strategy also relies on drawing big donors.
Five of Obama’s billionaire donors have signed up to help raise money for the campaign, including hedge-fund managers Marc Lasry and David Shaw, Chicago real estate developer Neil Bluhm and hotel heiress Penny Pritzker. Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com and a pioneer in cloud computing for businesses, has raised at least $500,000 for the campaign, the largest figure among the billionaire bundlers.
But Obama’s biggest backer so far isn’t a billionaire: Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is worth approximately $800 million, has raised $500,000 for the campaign and contributed $2 million of his own money to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Obama.
Donor records show that four billionaires had supported Republican candidate Newt Gingrich by the end of September, before his rise in polls. Several of those supporters, including casino owner Sheldon Adelson and Amway founder Richard DeVos, have in the past shown a willingness to use their deep pockets to advance their political goals. Adelson has donated at least $7 million to one of Gingrich’s political groups.
Super PACs are turning out to be the vehicle of choice for wealthy donors. Created as an indirect result of last year’s landmark Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the groups can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations and spend the money on hard-hitting campaign ads.
In 2004, corporations were banned from bankrolling ads in the final two months of a campaign, and ads sponsored by most interest groups were not allowed to directly attack or support candidates.
The ability to run those ads in 2012 could attract more spending by wealthy donors, Corrado said.
“One of the things about large investors in campaigns is that they’re very interested in getting results,” Corrado said. “And it is much easier to get a large effect in a race if you can give to directly advocate for and against a candidate.”
Steve Rosenthal, who ran one of the largest independent groups helping Democrats in 2004, said that people who write large checks to independent groups are generally motivated more by ideology than by access to political figures.
“They’re not people who are trying to stay a night in the Lincoln bedroom,” Rosenthal said. “These are mostly people who believe strongly in a set of values and ideals.”