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Fewer political fundraisers are reaching for their pocketbooks

Big-money bundlers for Obama aren't in a rush because he doesn't have a Democratic primary challenger. And GOP supporters seem to be waiting to see if there are late presidential entrants.

July 29, 2011|By Matea Gold, Melanie Mason and Kim Geiger, Washington Bureau
  • Some GOP fundraisers say they are waiting to see if Texas Gov. Rick Perry enters the presidential campaign.
Some GOP fundraisers say they are waiting to see if Texas Gov. Rick Perry… (Heather Rousseau, Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — The vast majority of big-money bundlers who power political fundraising are sitting out the 2012 presidential contest so far, a reflection of persistent dissatisfaction with the Republican field and a lack of urgency and engagement felt by past supporters of President Obama.

An analysis by the Los Angeles Times of campaign finance reports found that only about 100 of the 560 fundraisers who collected money for Obama from friends and colleagues during the 2008 campaign have raised funds for the president's reelection effort.

Many contacted by The Times said they still planned to get involved, noting it was still early — particularly because the president does not have a Democratic primary challenger. But several also said that the economic malaise, the absence of a clear Republican opponent and some disenchantment with the administration's policies have made fundraising more difficult than during Obama's passion-filled 2008 bid.

"There will be a mix of people who initially are more reticent because they feel a little bit disappointed, but over time they will come back to support the president like they did in 2007 and 2008," said Thomas Lesser, an attorney from Northampton, Mass., who is organizing a fundraiser for Obama on Martha's Vineyard in mid-August.

On the GOP side, The Times determined that fewer than 1 in 5 major fundraisers have personally contributed to the current crop of candidates. Among the nearly 1,000 "Pioneers" and "Rangers" who raised substantial sums of money for George W. Bush's two campaigns, fewer than 150 have given to the presidential hopefuls this year. Of the roughly 530 who helped Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in 2008, about 130 have made contributions this year. (The number of past GOP fundraisers who have gone a step further and bundled others' donations this year is not known; Obama has released a list of his bundlers, but Republican candidates have not.)

Many Republicans said they're holding out to see if there are late presidential entrants — particularly Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to decide by the end of the summer. As he weighs the decision, Perry has been meeting with donors around the country to gauge his fundraising potential. He swung through San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Los Angeles last week, and is scheduled to host major GOP donors at two dinners next week in Austin, Texas.

"If Perry elects to run, you would find a substantial and serious cadre of Republican bundlers who would pretty seriously rally to his cause," said Dirk Van Dongen, a longtime GOP fundraiser who has not yet signed up with a candidate.

Jim Neale, president of Quorum Energy, a Dallas-based oil and gas exploration company, is one of them.

"He has a real appeal to the evangelical side of the Republican Party, and they are the ones who actually vote in the primary," said Neale, a former Bush Pioneer who said he is underwhelmed by the current field. "I don't think any of the candidates at this time possess that kind of tough leadership that we need."

The discontent has led some deep-pocketed Republicans to forward their resources elsewhere. Former Univision Chairman A. Jerrold Perenchio, a major Bush and McCain fundraiser, has yet to show up as a donor to any of the current GOP contenders. But in April, he gave $2 million through a trust he controls to American Crossroads, a "super PAC" that supports conservative candidates.

Amid moves like that, the Republican presidential candidates reported a lackluster haul in the three months that ended June 30, the first significant fundraising quarter of the 2012 race. Together, seven contenders who filed reports raised a little more than $34 million, a figure dwarfed by the $86.7 million Obama raised.

(The Republican total does not include $4.1 million reportedly raised by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who is not required to file a report until the fall because of his late entry into the race. Nor is it known whether he has won the backing of past GOP bundlers.)

Although about 4 out of 5 past Obama bundlers did not raise money for him in the last quarter — including well-known figures such as producer David Geffen and "CSI:NY" star Hill Harper — 244 individuals or couples helped steer $39 million into the Obama Victory Fund. That committee is run jointly with the national Democratic Party and can accept individual contributions up to $35,800, far more than the $5,000 per individual that candidates can raise directly.

The president was boosted by a cadre of about 150 new fundraisers. They have helped replenish the ranks of at least 59 Obama fundraisers, who together brought in more than $13 million in 2008, who cannot raise money this time because they received ambassadorships or other political appointments after his election.

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