By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008
The fundraising machine Sen. Barack Obama is relying on to overwhelm Sen. John McCain this fall has shown signs of wear in recent weeks, as Internet contributions have slowed and efforts to recruit top donors to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign have been beset by lingering tensions.
In a conference call Wednesday night, a top Obama adviser told members of the senator's national finance committee that "there's a huge amount of money we need to raise, and we have to be aware of that," according to one person on the call, who said the campaign, combined with the Democratic National Committee, hopes to have raised $450 million by Election Day.
Several of Obama's top fundraisers said yesterday that they don't think trend lines showing three straight months of declining donations to the candidate are cause for concern. But they said the campaign has recognized it will need to expand efforts to raise money from high-dollar donors in order to meet budget projections.
"It's one of the reasons why the Clinton people are so important," said Kirk Wagar, Obama's Florida finance chairman. "Most of us have beaten our Rolodexes pretty badly."
To that end, Obama maintained a frenetic schedule of fundraising events this week, courting top Clinton bundlers and soaking up millions of dollars for the DNC.
On Monday, Obama spent 90 minutes at an event at the Atlanta area home of Michael Coles, who had led fundraising efforts in Georgia for Clinton. The dinner for roughly 40 people was so oversubscribed that billionaire Ted Turner was on a waiting list until several longtime Obama supporters gave up their seats.
The same day, Penny Pritzker, a Chicago hotel heiress and Obama backer, held a gathering hosted by several of Clinton's Florida finance chairs. For several hours on Tuesday, Obama was at the Washington estate of Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.) before launching a series of major fundraisers in New York at which he and Clinton appeared jointly with supporters. Those events, all of which fetched in the neighborhood of $28,500 per person, concluded yesterday morning with a less costly "Women for Obama" event, at which he shared the stage with Clinton.
Clinton regaled about 2,000 women gathered in New York with stories about her post-campaign life, saying she is "kind of" rested after the long primary campaign. "I'm trying to exercise a little bit, which I'm told does wonders for a person," she joked.
Obama heaped praise on Clinton and gave a policy-laden speech, promising to appoint federal judges who would defend access to abortion, to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act and to make sure women receive equal pay.
This latest fundraising push is, in part, a race against the clock as the summer wears on and wealthy donors leave town for vacations. And the demands on members of Obama's National Finance Committee have never been greater.
Each of the hundreds of members of the senator's main fundraising team has been asked to raise at least $100,000 for the Victory Fund, which spreads money among Obama's general-election account, state party accounts and the DNC. Those joining the committee from the Clinton camp have been asked to raise another $250,000 in money Obama can continue to spend before the party's late-August nominating convention. And each finance committee member has been asked to collect checks from at least five donors to help Clinton retire more than $10 million of her campaign debt.
That task, in particular, has created heartache among longtime Obama supporters who believe any effort to retire Clinton's debt should take a back seat to gathering money for Obama's fall campaign.
"It's a challenge," said James Hudson, a Washington lawyer and Obama fundraiser who said he's already asking his friends and colleagues to write checks to Obama's Victory Fund. "Now you have to make two asks instead of one. In my mind, the primary goal here should be to raise money for Barack's campaign."
Mark Gilbert, a financier and Obama supporter who has been raising money in Florida and Utah, agreed that the request to help Clinton has been a challenge.
"What's a good way to put this? There's a feeling that the money she spent at the end may not have needed to have been spent," he said. "You want to help because it's important to Senator Obama. The flip side is, you don't want to take money away from what's needed in November, which is the more important goal."
Clinton supporters who have joined Obama's effort said his work to help retire Clinton's debt is an important olive branch and will more than offset any burden it places on Obama's fundraising team.
Richard L. Shiffrin, a Philadelphia lawyer who backed Clinton but has now committed to helping Obama, said he has been closely monitoring the debt-retirement effort.
"They have made a bunch of promises, which I have no reason to believe they won't fulfill, but you want to see results," he said.
Lindsay Gardner, a partner with MediaTech Capital Partners who is raising money for Obama, said he thinks the widespread talk of friction between Obama and Clinton fundraisers has been overstated.
"I think they represent a minority, but they're getting disproportionate attention," Gardner said. "The view among the people who really are pivotal in the campaign is that it's slowly but surely working itself out."
Staff writer Perry Bacon Jr. and researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.