27 Obama bundlers have already topped $500,000

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 Updated:

President Obama at a 2008 campaign rally.

Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

The Obama campaign released a list Friday of its bundling stars showing that 27 individuals—including Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and Vogue editor Anna Wintour—had already roped in over $500,000 each.Those 27 well-heeled Obama fundraisers alone raised more money for his re-election campaign than any of the Republican presidential candidates except Mitt Romney.

The newly released list of “volunteer fundraisers” identified 244 bundlers who have collected a minimum of $50,000 each for Obama’s campaign (in some instances, couples were grouped together under one listing). Those numbers break down to 87 listings between $50,000-$100,000; 89 had pulled in between $100,000-$200,000; and 41 had raised between $250,000-$500,000.

More than 40 bundlers from 2008 who received government appointments after Obama's election have returned as major fundraisers.

Earlier this year, campaign manager Jim Messina asked about 450 leading fundraisers to bring in $350,000 each by the end of this year.  iWatch News has learned that the bundlers were also told they were expected to pull in the same amount next year— an extraordinary $700,000 per bundler over the course of the president’s re-election effort.

Some of the super bundlers are going even further. At least two fundraisers,  Katzenberg and hedge fund executive Orin Kramer, who have raised $500K each this year as they did in 2008, have also been working to raise unlimited donations for two outside groups that were created earlier this year by a pair of ex-White House aides to help the President win re-election. (The outside groups are Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action which raised between $4 million and $5 million in their first two months of operation en route to a goal of $100 million).

Other notable 2012 bundlers include:

  • Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, was among those listed. A $100,000-plus bundler in 2008, Wintour has already broken the $500,000 minimum in just the first quarter of Obama’s campaign. That puts her among the upper elite of fundraisers. In November of 2009, Wintour was appointed to a seat on the President’s Committee for Arts and Humanities.
  • Steve Westly, the focus of the iWatch piece “Green Bundler with the Golden Touch,” bundled between $100,000 and $200,000. A bundler in 2008, Westly has enjoyed easy access to the White House at the same time his companies have received some $510 million in grants and loans since 2009.
  • Former New Jersey Gov. and Sen. Jon Corzine also breached the $500,000 plus mark. Corzine did not bundle in 2008, most likely because he was attempting to fundraise for his own re-election in 2009. The former Goldman Sachs executive was defeated by Republican Chris Christie.
  • Comcast Executive David Cohen, who did not bundle for the campaign in 2008, also broke through the half-million dollar level. Cohen recently held a $10,000 a plate dinner at his house for the President. Five months ago, Comcast received approval for a major merger with NBC.

iWatch News reported in June how many bundlers from the 2008 campaign had jobs or commission spots from the administration. In total, 43 bundlers from 2008 later received government appointments and have returned as bundlers for 2012. Of those, five were listed as giving $500,000 or more so far in 2012. They are:

  • John Emerson, of Beverly Hills, who was appointed to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, raised at least $100,000 in 2008.
  • Michael Kempner, Cresskill, N.J.,  was named to the Council for Community Solutions. He bundled $100,000 for the 2008 campaign.
  • Kirk Rudy, of Austin, Texas, was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He raised at least $200,000 for 2008.
  • Andy Spahn, a $50,000 bundler in 2008 who was appointed to the President's Commission on Arts and Humanities, has raised more than $500,000 so far for 2012.
  • Jane Stetson, of Norwich, Vt., a $200,000 bundler in 2008, also has reached the $500,000 milestone for 2012. She is a chair of the Democratic National Committee and her husband was appointed to the board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The early and aggressive fundraising by the Obama campaign, the DNC and outside groups underscores how the money chase for the next election is expected to far outpace the fundraising frenzy of 2010.

All that bundling muscle was instrumental in the ability of the Obama campaign and the DNC to collectively raise $86 million in the second quarter. The campaign keeps $47 million of it.

Democratic activists are pushing hard for early money in the belief that the eventual Republican challenger will have massive financial help from GOP groups, such as the Karl Rove driven American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Those two groups have said they intend to raise $120 million for the next elections, dwarfing the $71 million raised in the 2010 congressional elections.

In the wake of last year’s Citizens United court case, which legalized unlimited corporate, union and individual spending on ads and other campaign tools that directly advocate for a candidate, outside groups are expected to be an even strong weapon in 2012 than they were in 2010.

“Citizens United is driving our fundraising because we’re going to be hammered,” Kirk Dornbush, an Atlanta-based bundler for the Obama campaign, told iWatch News. “The special interest money that is going to be used to unseat this President will be unprecedented.”

Dornbush, who is listed in the disclosure in the $200,000-$500,000 range, added that the Supreme Court’s decision “creates a special burden on fundraisers. I don’t apologize at all for raising funds.”

In addition to his job as a biotechnology executive, Dornbush, who bundled at least $200,000 for the Obama team in 2008, was appointed to the board of the National Park Foundation. Board members are appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to six-year terms.

Bundlers are individuals, often well-connected and wealthy, who typically hit up friends and business associates for political donations, sometimes at large events. The fundraisers then present the checks to political campaigns in “bundles.”

The practice of bundling is widespread and can be controversial because it permits campaigns to skirt individual contribution limits of $2,500 in federal elections, and gives extra cachet to aggressive and well-connected fundraisers. Despite the Obama campaign’s impressively wide donor base in 2008, the roughly 550 bundlers contributed about 10 percent of the overall $745 million raised.

About 200 of the bundlers from 2008 have received various perks including jobs in the administration like ambassadorships, appointments to governmental boards or government contracts, according to an earlier investigation by iWatch News.

Some bundlers have predicted the 2012 effort will require them to step up their fundraising, in part because of the continuing economic malaise which is expected to impact smaller donors. So far, however, the small donors have continued to give — the Obama campaign says they have recorded 552,462 individual donors so far this year. According to Messina, 98 percent of donors gave less than $250, with the average donation coming in at $69.

Stewart Bainum, a Chevy Chase, Md., hotel chain CEO who with his wife, Sandy, raised $500,000 for Obama in 2008, told iWatch News last month that he expected fundraising for Obama’s re-election to be more difficult than 2008.  At the time he said he hadn’t “tested the waters yet.”  Bainum did not show up on the list, one of at least 27 top bundlers from 2008 who have not yet bundled even $50,000 for the 2012 campaign.

Because the campaign only revealed ranges with their disclosure, knowing exactly how much money has been raised by bundlers is impossible. In other words, anyone listed as a bundler at the $500,000 level has raised at least that much — but could have pulled in much, much more.

Many bundlers have focused on getting checks for the maximum that can be given to the DNC and the campaign combined, or $35,800 per person. Of that total $5,000 can go to the campaign, checks that became part of its haul of $47 million.

The Obama team’s fundraising shattered records for the quarter and sets him up well for the upcoming campaign. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads the Republican pack with just over $18 million raised, much of which will have to be spent on what is shaping up to be a wide-open GOP primary.

iWatch News previously reported on a number of fundraisers held for the Obama team. The president, vice president Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama headlined 45 fundraisers by June 30, the end of the second quarter.

At the first lady’s event in Burlington, Vt., she was introduced by Stetson, now the finance chairwoman for the DNC. Stetson, who bundled at least $200,000 for the 2008 campaign, joked she had a “girl crush” on Mrs. Obama. A Pasadena event was co-chaired by bundler Lena Kennedy (bundled at least $200,000) who described the first lady as “the not-so-secret weapon of the president of the United States.” Both Stetson and Kennedy have bundled over $500,000 this year, according to the campaign’s disclosure.

Earlier in the month, the president spent a night in Miami rolling through three events, which concluded with an intimate dinner at the house of Jean-Philippe Austin (bundled at least $50,000). Attendees paid $35,800, the maximum donation allowed per person to the Obama Victory Fund 2012. Austin is listed as bundling between $200,000 and $500,000 this year.

California has been a particularly friendly spot to the Obama team, as well as a major hub for its bundling strategy. The Obama campaign held a number of early events in California, including a four- event swing by the first lady in mid-June. The golden state was extremely friendly to the president’s first election fund. In addition to having the most bundlers of any state — 96, 10 more than the president’s home base of Illinois — California’s bundlers raised nearly $15 million in 2008.

Fred Schulte, Josh Israel, and Ben Wieder contributed to this report. 

 

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