Emanuel becomes the latest close Obama associate to pitch in and help the struggling and ostensibly independent group court major givers. Senior White House and campaign advisers, along with Cabinet officials and former president Bill Clinton, have met privately with millionaires and billionaires as alarm has spread about the fundraising gap with the GOP.
On Wednesday in Charlotte, Emanuel and campaign manager Jim Messina provided separate briefings to potential super-PAC donors, joined in some cases by Obama administration officials. At one invitation-only event, Jack Lew, White House chief of staff, was among those who spoke informally with roughly two dozen potential donors.
Bill Burton, a former Obama aide who founded Priorities USA Action, described the efforts as an “all-hands-on-deck moment” in which he and other fundraisers are exhorting potential donors to recognize the gravity of the situation.
“The Democrats are not concerned enough,” Burton said. “The challenge is making people understand that the threat is real here.”
As Obama aides have stepped up their efforts to draw in some of the country’s most well-heeled financiers and philanthropists, some of the conversations have ventured into unusual terrain.
Senior White House adviser David Plouffe listened intently during one session in May as a billionaire donor sought his help for a proposed rule protecting captive chimpanzees. Another participant pressed him about White House action to protect same-sex couples.
Several fundraisers said in interviews that they are battling a reluctance among well-heeled Democrats to contribute big checks to super PACs, in part because Democrats, including Obama, were originally wary of these new entities.
Unlike Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who has participated in fundraising for the super PAC supporting him, Obama has not played a role — though he reversed his opposition to allowing his aides to pitch in.
Emanuel’s move could change the mind-set, said David Rosen, a Democratic consultant who is at the convention and attending private sessions for donors and campaign insiders.
“Rahm will turbocharge the fundraising for Priorities USA,” he predicted.
Emanuel started working with the super PAC in the past two weeks. News of the switch began circulating in Charlotte on Wednesday, the convention’s second day.