Obama fundraising targets very large, very small donors


U.S. President Barack Obama greets supporters after he delivered remarks at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Aragon Entertainment Center in Chicago, August 3, 2011. (LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)
August 3, 2011

President Obama’s fundraising reports show that he has taken a much different tack in raising money than George W. Bush did at the start of his 2004 reelection bid.

Overall, Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised $87 million in the second quarter of 2011, compared with $59 million for Bush and the Republican National Committee eight years earlier. But the effort expended was quite different. Bush didn’t start raising money until two weeks before the end of the quarter and held seven events. Obama, battling to raise money in a weak economy, held 30 events in 13 stops around the country, including one in Puerto Rico.

Obama’s strategy has concentrated on two ends of the spectrum — very large and very small donors. Through an agreement with the DNC, he has started raising $35,800 from a person or $71,600 from a couple. His appeal to small donors — giving in amounts less than $200 — brought in $21.7 million last quarter.

Bush never created a similar “joint fundraising committee” with the RNC that would have allowed him to capture mega-donors. He stuck with the $2,000 maximum allowed for his primary campaign and relied on public funds for the general-election period from the nominating convention until Election Day.

Bush also put comparatively little effort into small-dollar fundraising. His campaign raised less than $3 million from donors giving less than $200 in the second quarter of 2003.

Obama hopes to raise at least the $750 million he did in 2008. Bush, at the outset of his 2003 campaign, set a $170 million goal. The figure now seems quaint, but at the time it was a bigger increase from Bush’s record-breaking fundraising haul in 2000 than Obama officials hope to get.

In the end, Bush raised more than $260 million and accepted an additional $76.4 million in public money.

Bush’s decision to work within the limits for his campaign meant he had to attract a lot more donors. More than 12,400 people donated the maximum $2,000, records show.

By comparison, Obama has relied on only 614 people who have donated $35,000 or more to his campaign.

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said that the bigger contributions were necessary to offset an increase in spending by outside interest groups.

“With the floodgates now opened to allow special interests to contribute unlimited amounts in their effort to defeat the president,” LaBolt said, “it is necessary for us to raise the resources to build a robust organization this year.”

Super-loophole for lobbyists

Attention, Democratic lobbyists: You now have a way to give money to aid President Obama’s reelection effort.

The president’s campaign refuses to accept contributions from federally registered lobbyists and political action committees. When he secured the Democratic nomination in 2008, Obama extended the ban to the DNC.

Now a super PAC formed by two former Obama administration officials is working to further the Obama campaign and ready to accept your money.

Five lobbyists already have donated to Priorities USA. Four have given $5,000, including Steve Elmendorf of Elmendorf Ryan, David Castagnetti of Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and Joel Johnson of the Glover Park Group.

“There are a whole lot of organizations on the other side,” said Bryant Hall, president of Tiber Creek Health Strategies, who said he heard about the super PAC from a colleague and donated $500. “I support President Obama. I voted for him, and I’ll vote for him again.”

Hall said he would have given to Obama’s campaign directly if it were possible.

Priorities USA founder Bill Burton, who served as the national press secretary for Obama’s 2008 campaign, says the group has no objections to using the money to help a president who spurns it.

“We decided we were going to play by the exact same rules as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers and not let them have any advantages in this election cycle,” Burton said.

Rove was instrumental in founding American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two sister organizations that spend on behalf of Republican candidates. Brothers Charles and David Koch have funded similar conservative organizations.

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