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Investors, more than big banks, open checkbooks for Obama

President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in New York, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert - AP)

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By Anne E. Kornblut and Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

President Obama raised between $2 million and $3 million for Democrats during a swing through Manhattan on Tuesday night, easing some qualms that the economic downturn might spook major donors at a time when the financial industry is aggravated by the administration's populist tone but also under pressure to avoid the appearance of excessive giving.

In a $15,200-per-plate dinner at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Obama asked for cooperation from Wall Street.

"If there are members of the financial industry in the audience today," Obama said, "I would ask that you join us in passing what are necessary reforms. Don't fight them."

Fundraisers familiar with Tuesday's guest lists said that Wall Street firms were well represented, although the crowd included more private investors than senior managers from the big banks. At the same time, top fundraisers said Obama brought in philanthropists and issue-driven donors who had not played a major part in political activism before 2008.

"It's different money and it's new money, and it came in during the campaign and it's staying in," said Jane Hartley, chief executive of the consulting firm Observatory Group. Hartley was one of the earliest and most prolific fundraisers for Obama.

Though money is not flowing into the Democratic Party as it did in 2008 -- and the party's 2009 candidates in two gubernatorial races are struggling -- Obama remains an attraction. A rally at the Hammerstein Ballroom sold out, with an estimated 2,700 guests paying for tickets that started at $100. The president's remarks were to be piped into house parties across the country that were convened to push his health-care overhaul plans through Congress.

At the Mandarin Oriental, Obama planned to mingle with about 200 guests, officials said.

His New York trip was designed to raise money for the Democratic National Committee and for Bill Owens, the Democratic nominee for New York's 23rd Congressional District. The seat is vacant because Obama appointed the former congressman, John McHugh, as his Army secretary. Officials did not disclose the amount raised for Owens.

Overall, Democrats appear to be faring better than Republicans in fundraising totals. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $33 million through September, $4 million more than its Republican counterpart. There is a larger disparity on the House side, where the Democratic committee has raised $44 million and the Republican committee has raised $27 million.

The "core crew" of Obama's Manhattan donors, as one member of the group attending Tuesday's dinner called it, consists mostly of private investors who backed Obama over hometown senator Hillary Rodham Clinton early in the presidential race. The support of those donors, especially Orin Kramer, an investor at Boston Provident who broke early for Obama, signaled that the young candidate deserved serious attention. That core group includes Hartley and her husband, Ralph Schlosstein, the BlackRock co-founder and chief executive of Evercore Partners, who planned to attend Tuesday's dinner. Kramer also was expected.

The group also includes Robert Wolf, president of UBS Investment Bank, and Mark Gallogly, a co-founder of Centerbridge Partners, who both joined the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board; Jim Torrey, an investor at Torrey Funds; Frank Brosens, the director of Taconic Capital Advisors; Jamie Rubin, an investor at BC Partners; Brian Mathis, an investor at the Provident Group; Josh Steiner, a partner at the Quadrangle Group; and Tracy Maitland, who runs the Advent Claymore Enhanced Growth & Income Fund.

Many of them were expected to attend, as was liberal stalwart Sarah Kovner, whose attendance at a May 2008 fundraiser for Obama marked a critical shift of influence away from Clinton, whom she had supported.

Large public banks have long been loath to get involved in politics, a major Obama donor said: "The stronger base is among private equity guys, hedge funds, et cetera. People in private firms feel a little more flexible."


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