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CAMPAIGN '08: BACKGROUND AND FUNDRAISING

Large donors aiding Obama

Rich Californians send tens of thousands of dollars each to his joint account with the Democratic Party.

October 21, 2008|Dan Morain | Morain is a Times staff writer.

Barack Obama raised more than $36 million last month for an account he shares with the Democratic Party, close to half of it from wealthy California donors who gave up to $61,600 each.

Federal law caps direct donations to a presidential campaign at $4,600, but Obama and John McCain have used a loophole in the law to set up joint accounts with their parties to which people contribute far more.

Since the Democratic candidate set up the Obama Victory Fund in July, Californians have given at least $30 million, including $16 million last month, when Obama held high-end fundraisers in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

These events attracted numerous entrepreneurs and Hollywood stars, whose donations are reflected in recent disclosures.

Howard Marks, chairman of Oaktree Capital Management in Los Angeles, donated $57,000, as did musician Herb Alpert.

Others include actors Harrison Ford and George Clooney, who gave $30,800 each; Rob Reiner, who gave $33,100; and Jennifer Aniston, Larry David, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Renee Zellweger and several other Hollywood figures, who gave $28,500.

Obama's money spigots opened wide in September, when he raised an eye-popping $150 million for his presidential account.

He and the Democratic National Committee also raised $69 million for their joint committee, he reported to the Federal Election Commission.

Donors can write a single large check to the Obama Victory Fund, and have it split among Obama, the DNC and certain state accounts for the Obama campaign's benefit.

A review of these donations shows that more than half, $35.9 million, came from people giving more than $4,600. Almost a fourth, $16.7 million, consisted of donations of $28,500 or more.

Spokesman Ben LaBolt said the large donations would not influence the Illinois senator, noting that he has attracted 3.1 million donors, more than any presidential candidate in history, who contributed an average $86.

LaBolt cited legislation Obama has pushed that was intended to "reduce the influence of money and lobbyists over the political process."

Since the Obama Victory Fund was established in July, Obama has collected $134 million. Nearly $78 million, or 62%, has come from donors giving amounts greater than $4,600.

The Victory Fund, like Obama's presidential campaign, refuses money from Washington lobbyists.

But the fund takes from partners in law firms that have a lobbying presence in the nation's capital, including $30,000 from Covington & Burling, $50,000 from Arnold & Porter, and $55,000 from Blank Rome during August and September.

Victory Fund donors also include firms that have significant interests in Washington, such as Comcast Corp., whose employees gave $59,000 in the last two months; and AT&T Inc., whose employees gave $35,000 during the same period.

In August and September, as the Wall Street crisis was nearing, the Victory Fund tapped employees from numerous banks: $130,000 from Citigroup Inc., $89,000 from Deutsche Bank and $47,000 from Credit Suisse.

The fund also received $30,800 from John M. Noel, head of Travel Guard, part of insurance giant AIG, which received a federal bailout.

--

dan.morain@latimes.com

Times researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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