Thursday, July 26, 2007

"Democrats’ big givers play presidential field"

The Hill:
In Democratic fundraising circles, collecting $50,000 or $100,000 for a presidential campaign means you’re going steady with a candidate, but it doesn’t mean you have a committed and exclusive relationship.
Many of the biggest fundraisers for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) have also given substantial sums to their rivals. Wealthy Democrats have extolled the virtues of Obama or Clinton to encourage friends and acquaintances to open their wallets, only to give money quietly to their opponents shortly afterward.

Robert A. Clifford, of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, raised more than $50,000 for Obama during the first quarter, according to a list of fundraising bundlers made available by the Obama campaign. But at the end of June he gave the maximum possible contribution to Obama’s archrival, Clinton.

Clifford was not available for comment.

Another Obama bundler (a designation the campaign gives to people who have raised at least $50,000), Jeff Bleich is also a fundraiser for the Edwards campaign, according to a list released by Edwards staff.

Bleich has given $4,400 to Obama and $2,300 to Edwards, according to campaign finance records.

Bleich was surprised to hear that he appeared on Edwards’s list of top donors. He said he has not raised any money for Edwards and declined to discuss in detail his split allegiance.

“John is a friend of mine and I don’t want to talk about this to the press,” he said. “Obama is an older friend of mine.”

Sharing wealth has become a touchy subject between donors and presidential campaigns. Some bundlers say campaigns have put pressure on them not to spread contributions.

“These campaigns are trying to paint themselves as though their candidate is the only candidate,” said an Obama bundler, who said the campaign is unhappy with donors who also give to Clinton and Edwards. “They’re looking for fidelity. They want fidelity among their bundlers and fidelity among their donors.”

Jen Psaki, Obama’s spokeswoman, disputed that characterization.

“This is an exciting time for the Democratic Party, with more people giving to the Obama campaign than to the top three Republicans combined last quarter, and our approach is not to tell people what they can’t do. It is to encourage people to play an active role on Obama’s team,” she said.

The Clinton campaign has signaled to donors that they should not stray to other candidates.

At a Beverly Hills fundraiser in January, Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe asked guests: “Who’s with Hillary?”
“This isn’t the John Kerry campaign,” he quipped, according to The Los Angeles Times. “You are either with us or against us.”

While McAuliffe may have veiled his words in humor, the message was clear to donors. One Democratic fundraiser told The Hill that the Clinton campaign has stressed the importance of donors maintaining an exclusive relationship.

But that hasn’t kept all donors in the fold.

John A. Catsimatidis, who has raised at least $100,000 for Clinton, has also given the maximum contribution for a primary election to Sens. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Joseph Biden (Del.), rivals for the Democratic nomination.

“I’ve known those people for 20 years and they’re very nice people,” Catsimatidis said of Dodd and Biden. “I’ve broken arms to raise money for Clinton. I just wrote a check for those two; it’s different.

“They asked for a check and I’ve known them for 20 years,” he added. “What am I going to say to them? ‘No’?”

Catsimatidis, a New Yorker, even wrote a $2,300 check to ex-New York City mayor and GOP presidential contender Rudy Giuliani. He said his home state would benefit if either Clinton or Giuliani became president.

A review of 95 Clinton bundlers found that 23 gave to her rivals in the Democratic primary. A survey of 138 Obama bundlers revealed 34 who gave to other White House hopefuls. A review of 98 Edwards fundraisers showed 23 gave to other candidates.

Russell Budd, a partner at the Dallas-based Baron & Budd law firm, said he is a member of Edwards’s finance committee. But that didn’t stop him from giving a $2,300 contribution to Obama in May. Budd said that he and his partners have also given money to Clinton.

“We’re committed to Edwards,” he said. “We think he’d be a great president; I think he’d do a great job.”

But Budd admitted he also likes Clinton and Obama.

“They’re very committed to a lot of the same issues we are and are doing a great job in the Senate,” he said. “They asked us and we helped them.”

One donor on the list of bundlers released by the Edwards campaign has yet to give Edwards a contribution in excess of $200, according to a search of a donor database maintained by PoliticalMoneyLine, a website that tracks fundraising.

Armyan Bernstein, chairman of Beacon, a California film company, gave nothing to Edwards despite being listed as one of his top fundraisers. He did, however, give $2,300 to Clinton in June.

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