Bush will attend two fundraisers later today after giving a speech on foreign policy hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The fundraisers will benefit his Right to Rise PAC and a separate super PAC that can accept unlimited donations. How the money will be divided was not immediately clear, but as an unannounced presidential candidate, Bush is still able to work with a super PAC and accept unlimited donations -- a right that will disappear if he becomes an official candidate.
Bush's first fundraiser is being held at the downtown Chicago Club, where donors are being asked to give a minimum of $1,000. Later, he'll head to the Lake Forest, Ill. home of Melissa and Reeve Waud, where the minimum is $25,000 raised or contributed. But organizers expect that donors will far exceed the minimum.
Waud runs a Chicago-based investment firm and held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign that helped raise nearly $4.5 million in one night near the end of the campaign.
Bush is on a fundraising tear, pulling in millions of dollars a week for his two political committees as he hopscotches around the country, averaging a pace of one finance event a day.
The haul he is expected to scoop up in Chicago comes after he raised an estimated $4 million at the Manhattan apartment of private equity titan Henry Kravis last week and picked up more than $1 million in two events in Washington Tuesday. Next weekend, he is on track to raise as much as $5 million at an event held at the waterfront estate of Coral Gables billionaire Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, according to a report in Politico. That would mean at least a $14 million take in a 10-day period.
More than two dozen people are co-chairing Wednesday's events, according to local news reports. The list includes Kristen Hertel and Muneer Satter, who was a national finance co-chairman for Romney. There's also Janet and Craig Duchossois; Cindy and Chris Galvin a Motorola executive; Christina and Ron Gidwitz; and John Rowe, a former Exelon executive. Richard Porter, the Republican National Committeeman for Illinois, is also on board.
Bill Kunkler, another private equity titan, is a co-chair of the afternoon fundraiser with his wife, Susan Crown, a business executive. The couple also were national finance committee co-chairs for Romney's 2012 campaign and quickly shifted focus to Bush once Romney took a pass on another race.
"It seems to me that he's got 80-plus percent of the Illinois, or at least the Chicago [donor] market, in his camp," Kunkler said in an interview on Tuesday. "I've talked to some of the other campaigns and I've said, 'This is where we're going, period. Good luck.'"
Kunkler said he first met Bush at a 2013 business event in Lombard, Ill. and was immediately impressed by the governor's "philosophy of life and governing style and what was important to the American people and the people going forward. Just his overall worldview." Kunkler later introduced Bush to his wife and the couple has seen the governor five times since, most recently when he visited Chicago in December.
"He's been developing his relationships here for a while," Kunkler said of Bush.
Another donor involved in today's events said that Bush has been able to quickly coalesce the city's financial support in part because people are increasingly less impressed by the potential candidacy of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
"There's no New Jersey miracle," said the donor, who asked for anonymity in order to speak frankly. "I think 'Bridgegate' continues to linger out there. And what interest people have in [Christie] is in the Northeast and isn’t playing as well here or elsewhere. The only other person people are keeping an eye on at this point is [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, because he seems to share many of the same ideals."
The donor called Bush "exceedingly articulate, he’s very thoughtful and you get the instant sense that he’s electable. For many of us, most of us are fiscal conservatives in many ways, but we’re social moderates. I think if you look, there’s a large group of those people who think that by far he’s the most attractive candidate."
Much of Bush's financial success here can be tied to people like Kunkler, Waud and Lisa Wagner, his Illinois-based fundraiser who also once worked for Romney. And many who will mingle with Bush on Wednesday are with him now only because Romney decided not to run.
"My wife and I have the highest regard for Mitt and we never jumped ship," Kunkler said. "We waited until Mitt said 'I'm not running.' I always had in the back of my mind that he might go again."
Matea Gold contributed from Washington.