Obama frequently points with pride to the role that smaller donors played in his 2008 election, when his campaign also openly discouraged spending by outside organizations. But now Obama finds himself seeking out the kind of big-money donations he has often criticized while encouraging independent groups to raise and spend unlimited money on his behalf.
Obama’s campaign manager-in-waiting, Jim Messina, has asked the party’s biggest supporters to raise $350,000 each this year, to be shared by Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, far higher than goals set during the 2008 cycle.
The effort could yield $140 million or more by the start of 2012, a pace likely to provide a major advantage to Obama and his party over potential GOP rivals. By comparison, Republican challenger Mitt Romney has set a minimum goal of $50 million for the primaries, though GOP strategists expect him to raise more.
The official start of Obama’s Chicago-based campaign is expected this week with an announcement to supporters and the filing of paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, advisers said. That will be followed by a whirlwind of major fundraisers scheduled later this month in Chicago, New York and California focused on both wealthy and middle-class donors.
With the 2012 presidential contest shaping up to be the most expensive political race in U.S. history, Obama last week traveled to New York to ask for help from dozens of wealthy Democrats. The first stop was the trendy Red Rooster Harlem restaurant, which played host to a 50-person, $30,800-a-head fundraising dinner for the DNC. Then it was off to the nearby Studio Museum for a thank-you reception with about 250 loyal donors, aimed at lining up support for the 2012 campaign.
“The dinner will be no more than 6 tables so that the President has time to spend at each table,” organizers noted in an e-mail message to attendees.
Senior Democratic aides say the early push among wealthy contributors makes sense given the lack of a primary race to inspire small donors. But DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said the campaign also will reach out to a broad group of potential contributors, including an aggressive use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
“Small donors, grass-roots donors, medium-sized and major donors were all part of the mix in 2008, and they will be again in 2012,” Woodhouse said. “We didn’t rely on one type of donor then, nor will we now.”
Democratic strategists say the aggressive fundraising goals are aimed in part at intimidating Republican rivals, who bested Democrats in overall political spending in 2010. The effort is expected to be bolstered by an outside group, now in the planning stages, headed by former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, advisers said.