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Intro: "President Obama is struggling to draw in big-dollar donations, with half as many people writing large checks to his campaign than at this point four years ago."

President Obama greets the crowd after arriving at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. (photo: Susan Walsh/AP)
President Obama greets the crowd after arriving at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. (photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

Big Donors Turning Their Backs on Obama

By T.W. Farnam, The Washington Post

20 March 12


resident Obama is struggling to draw in big-dollar donations, with half as many people writing large checks to his campaign than at this point four years ago.

Obama is outpacing his Republican rivals in fundraising overall, and his advisers have concentrated on amassing small-dollar backers, part of a strategy to get more people invested in the reelection effort. At the end of January, 1.4 million people had donated to the Obama campaign, responding to appeals for contributions as small as $2.

But Obama lags behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney in finding donors willing to give $2,000 or more - a surprising development for a sitting president, and one that could signal more worrisome financial problems heading into the general election. At this point in the last election cycle, Obama had received such large donations from more than 23,000 supporters, more than double the 11,000 who have given him that much this time. President George W. Bush had more than four times that number of big donations at this point in his reelection.

Democrats see a variety of possible explanations for such a dramatic drop in big-dollar contributions. The ailing economy has dampened fundraising overall. Some wealthy liberals and Wall Street executives alike have grown disaffected with the president over time. And the extended Republican primary has shined a spotlight on a field of potential rivals that many Democrats believe Obama will easily beat.

"Some people think these Republicans are easy marks, and they aren't taking it as seriously as they need to yet," said Judy Wise, one of Obama's "bundlers," the campaign term for people who host events and gather checks from other donors.

Whatever the reason, Obama appears to be redoubling his efforts to extract bigger contributions from his support base. He has stepped up his fundraising events in recent weeks, taking swings through several different regions for more than 40 events in 2012. On Friday, the president did five events in two states with an expected haul of at least $5.5 million.

The campaign typically holds three or more events with different donation levels in one evening, part of a strategy to make Obama available to different types of people. The biggest event Friday featured singer Cee Lo Green at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Tickets were $500 with a $2,500 donation for VIP access and a $10,000 donation for a photo with the president.

Federal laws cap donations to the candidates at $2,500 for the period before the convention and $2,500 after that. Obama has been able to raise much bigger amounts by collecting donations for the Democratic National Committee, which can total $61,600 per person over two years.

Republicans and Democrats alike thought Obama would have a big financial advantage over Republicans this fall given his record-breaking 2008 fundraising and his status as the sitting president. But the trend of slackening big-donor support is the latest in a series of indications that the 2012 money battle is going to be much tighter than once imagined.

Some major Obama bundlers said in interviews that they are having trouble drumming up the same level of excitement that surrounded his bid four years ago. At the start of that campaign, Obama was an underdog running against Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary and there was a potent sense of urgency to fundraising appeals.

Obama has raised much more money that his Republican competitors by not only courting small contributors but also asking for bigger checks. Obama and the DNC have raised a combined $255 million since the president launched his campaign, compared with Romney's $63.1 million total.

Obama campaign officials describe his donation base as an asset; smaller donors means a more grass-roots vibe, they said.

"Our fundraising numbers reflect the grass-roots support the president has received from across the country," campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan said. "We are building the largest grass-roots campaign in history, and these donations will go towards investing a ground-up, national organization."

Still, recent moves by the Obama campaign have suggested that it may be eventually pinched for cash. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and White House adviser David Plouffe told top congressional Democrats that Obama and the DNC don't have any money to spare for House and Senate races.

Obama also recently changed course and asked top fundraisers to support a super PAC acting on his behalf. He has criticized the million-dollar contributions that fuel super PACs, a new type of political group, but decided that he couldn't afford to take the beating from PACs on the right without responding in kind. So far, the main super PAC behind Obama - Priorities USA - has posted anemic fundraising, in contrast to the millions of dollars conservative groups have already begun spending against him.

At the same time, the Obama campaign has been burning through money at a furious pace. In January, for example, the Obama campaign spent $17.7 million while raising only $11.9 million. That has left Obama with about half as much money in the bank as Bush had eight years ago ahead of his successful reelection.

At the end of January, President Obama and the DNC had $74 million on hand for the period before the conventions, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Bush and the Republican National Committee had $144 million at the same point in 2004.

Some bundlers have decided to stop supporting Obama entirely, including several in the finance sector, which has been hit with stringent new regulations pushed by Democrats.

"There's a lot of disaffection and buyer's remorse among the people I know," said one 2008 Obama fundraiser, who is no longer working for the president and was interviewed on the condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. "At the end of the day, would they vote for him? Maybe, but they're certainly going to be less active."

The erstwhile bundler said he would probably prefer to support Democrats in the Senate, who are in danger of losing their majority. He said he might change his mind and cut a check for Obama if he thought the president really needed the money or a candidate other than Romney were nominated by Republicans.

According to a Washington Post analysis of financial reports filed by the campaigns, more than 11,000 people have donated $2,000 or more to the Obama campaign or the Democratic National Committee since the start of the race. More than 23,000 had given that much at this point in 2008. And more than 49,000 did the same for Bush and the Republican Party by this point in the 2004 cycle.

"There is an issue with Democratic complacency," said one Democratic strategist not working for the campaign. "Far too many Democrats think that the president can't lose to Mitt Romney - and he definitely could."

Jack Oliver, Bush's national finance vice chairman in 2004, said the president's big donors should be galvanized by polling and economic data pointing toward a tight general election contest.

"The bundlers should be motivated right now because everybody knows that early money is valuable," Oliver said. "It allows you to plan."

Part of the reason that big donors have not rushed back to the campaign could be the president's own style. Obama wrote in a 2006 book that he doesn't like asking rich people for money, a contrast to many politicians of his stature who can gleefully work a room of donors.

"He's not someone who needs and therefore relishes this kind of direct personal contact," said Charles Lewis, a Chicago area philanthropist and a member of Obama's national finance committee. "People who attend get more out of it than he does." your social media marketing partner


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+13 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-20 11:59
What was that about serving two masters?

Obama wants the money from the 1% while making minor compromises with the 99%, which the 1% reject, and yet has betrayed the 99% in his subservience to to 1%.

As the old song goes: which side are you on?
+10 # Billy Bob 2012-03-20 13:08
I agree with you here.
+4 # Stephanie Remington 2012-03-21 03:59
I agree with you philosophically , but am very suspicious of what's going on here.

The bankers, who've been treated like royalty by Obama, have so far dumped most of their money into Romney's campaign. When an interviewer asked Ron Suskind (who wrote Confidence Men) why bankers/finance people were so critical of Obama when he'd done so much for them, he said he'd asked them the same thing and one of them told him it was because every time they criticized him he did more for them.

It looks like this may be more of the same strategy – pour money into the opponent so he has to work harder to get their money.

The horribly-named "Jobs Act" that just passed the House 390 to 23 was voted on by the Senate on Tuesday (everyone wants to look like they’re creating jobs in an election year).

The idea behind the bill is that if we remove virtually all remaining financial regulations, job creation will follow. What it will actually do is increase fraud, strip consumer protections, set us up for a 1920's style depression, and – on top of everything else – cause job LOSSES rather than gains.

I don't know how the senate voted, but if they passed it, there needs to be a lot of pressure on Obama not to give into banker extortion. Signing it would be just that.
+2 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-21 10:18
Be suspicious of everything -- especially when the article is from, and framed by, the Washington Post.

Big money supports both sides in elections to make everyone beholding to them, and shifts proportions of donations to manipulate the politics (it's like an angler plays a fish, reeling in line, letting it out again).
+17 # river turtle 2012-03-20 12:36
I am truly concerned that Democrats will be too complacent in the coming election. If we do not vote, it will be our our downfall. We must support and vote to carry our ideas forward. We can never take democracy for granted.
+6 # Anarchist 23 2012-03-20 23:55
We have already had our downfall-we just have not hit bottom yet.
+15 # John Locke 2012-03-20 12:49
He is having problems because he has not honored his pre election promises, and has fairly much gone against the interests of the 99%
+25 # Billy Bob 2012-03-20 13:11
It's pretty ironic that he's spent the last 4 years catering to the rich and they've rejected him anyway. Well, not ironic exactly....

What's that word?...


Just like trying to please repugs who want him dead for being in the way, setting out to please the rich hasn't really won them over.

Maybe he should just start paying attention to the people who voted for him in the first place.

THAT would be a "change" I could believe in.
+13 # Susan W 2012-03-20 14:04
Very well said!
+2 # Stephanie Remington 2012-03-21 18:03
Billy Bob,

I don't think they've rejected him. I think they're baiting him. Given his record, there's a very good chance he will respond in the way they like.

See my post above.
+4 # motamanx 2012-03-20 13:37
I am very sorry to have to echo the remarks (above) of John Locke. I still have hope, however, because Obama's predecessors were so bad.
+11 # LML 2012-03-20 14:15
Turns out that All that pandering didn't get him where he wanted to be, just the way all that bipartisan business didn't get him the results he wanted either.
+10 # erogers 2012-03-20 15:22
That message of HOPE during the Obama campaign has been a message of DESPAIR for many American families in that 99%. Just what is the message for the next four years Mr. Obama? I have never voted republican in my life and will not do so in 2012. However, who do I vote for. I see no true candidate that I can trust, and that includes Obama. This country needs a strong third party alternative to the broken two party system we now have. Please do not tell me that a third party will never be possible in this country. That is a lie!! You see a fine Independent in VT with Bernie Sanders and you see it in countries which have a true Democratic system. What you do not see in America are a lot of decent members of Congress. Most sold their souls just to get into office. If America continues down the broken two party path we are on then this country will be no different then the other failed oligarchies found in the dustbins of history. The sad fact is, what we now have would have our Founding Fathers calling for a Revolution.
0 # bluepilgrim 2012-03-21 10:24
I'm going to vote for Jerry White, of the Socialist Equity Party.

See to leanr what the socialists are REALLY about. It's also about the best news site you can find. (Along with RSN, of course ).

Sanders is not weith the SEP as far as I know, but he identifies himself as a socialist -- with the Vermont party.
0 # Stephanie Remington 2012-03-22 22:40
I like Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), but am not sure if he was able to get on the ballot in my state.

He is currently the Justice Party nominee, but is seeking the U.S. presidential nomination of Americans Elect, an independent organization hoping to field a nonpartisan presidential ticket. I don't understand this process at all, but possibly it has to do with how many states he can get on the ballot in.

Buddy Roemer is also seeking AE nomination, which is unfortunate because provides a good alternative to Republican voters who prefer a normal, sane candidate. He ran as a Republican, but despite getting quite a bit of support – like Gary Johnson – was pushed out of the debates and ignored. I think he is the only Republican candidate who supports OWS. I don’t know what will happen to the one who AE doesn’t nominate.
+8 # NeoGeo 2012-03-20 17:13
Wow, not a single commenter said that Obama had served us so well that we must rally to his re-election cause.

Does that tell folks anything about what continually selling out your base reaps in the end?

The Democrats take environmentalis ts, women, gays, unions and public workers for granted as "their" constituents. I mean, as the old saying goes, "who else they gonna vote for? Republicans?"

And so we've had 4 long years of sell-outs, "bi-partisan compromise," and kow-towing to the wealthy while supposedly keeping that "change and hope" promise to the rest of us.

But you know, a baloney sandwich ain't a Porterhouse steak, no matter what they tell you. And it looks like Obama's former supporters have had it with his baloney.
+1 # dick 2012-03-20 20:30
It won't be easy to FRIGHTEN people into supporting Obama by the "SPECTRE" of Romney. Too ordinary, too bland. A lot of the former votes were anti-Bush protest votes. Those are gone. The GOP is trying to help by threatening Soc Sec-Med-Med, which may actually help them with some young voters, disillusioned with false promises of major change. Obama will be tempted to run on his accomplishments , but people have 24 hour memories for that. He needs to identify 2-3 tangible objectives for 2nd term, no? Including for younger voters.
+1 # reiverpacific 2012-03-20 21:24
So perhaps if Ob' manages to get any kind of meaningful majority, he might use it this time to get the aid out to the street, where it is most needed, from small businesses to infrastructure (There's the REAL job-growth potential).
Bail-outs and compromise with the intractable be damned -give 'em a real dose of progressivism and let's make Credit-Unions and local banks the collateral beneficiaries on our mutual behalf (or back to the future if you like)!
There is a certain mathematical beauty to this which is pure common-sense.
+3 # colvictoria 2012-03-21 20:12
Obama duped us all. We were all enchanted with the idea of electing our first African American president. His charm, his polished look and exemplary oratory skills won many people over.
I also think that on the left people didn't want to be too critical of our first Black president.
It's almost as if the left became silenced and paralyzed white guilt?
The same issue occurs in the African American community where people dare not speak negatively about Obama. The right's hate speech toward Obama only intensifies the Black community to stand behind their man no matter what.
In the Latino community despite his horrific deportation record Obama has the support of the majority of Latino voters. With all of the hateful rhetoric coming from the Republican candidates it's no wonder Latinos will side with Obama.
Money or not Obama will win in November unless we get embroiled in a mess with Iran.
0 # Larkrise 2012-03-25 11:57
When you straddle a fence day after day, you may find yourself split in two. What has happened is that Obama's litany of broken promises; his addiction to smoke and mirrors; and his blaming of anyone but himself for missteps have caught up with him. People of integrity, ethics, and compassion for those suffering from the recession, no longer trust, respect nor believe his empty rhetoric. I will not donate one thin dime to his campaign. He can bamboozle the naive and the enamored. He is merely the lesser of two ugly evils. It is a national tragedy that we have no ethical, moral choices for President.

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