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Low popularity won't stop Obama from raking in campaign cash

October 24, 2011|By Tom Hamburger | Washington Bureau
  • President Obama walks to board the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House. Obama is starting a three-day trip with stops in Nevada, California and Colorado.
President Obama walks to board the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn… (Shawn Thew / EPA )

President Obama was airborne Monday morning, winging his way aboard Air Force One to six fundraisers in Nevada and California over the next two days.

Obama is at the nadir of his popularity but that doesn't mean his fundraising will be lagging. On the contrary, members of Obama’s finance team say he will meet and probably exceed all fundraising goals, continuing to place him far ahead of any GOP rival. That's because for incumbent presidents, there is little correlation between popularity and fundraising.

Donors are a small percentage of the electorate and they often are a candidate's most loyal backers, getting fired up when their man (or woman) is under attack. Donors to an incumbent president also include what we at the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau call "investors" -- donors who make contributions as a very practical way of protecting their financial interests.  It makes sense to back an administration that can still help or hurt with government-related decisions, grants and projects.

Like Obama, former President George W. Bush continued to do well financially when he was at the lowest points in his popularity during his second term.

And incumbent presidents at this point in a reelection race have another advantage over all other candidates: Obama faces no primary fight and can raise money beyond his traditional campaign account by fundraising for the national political party, which is allowed to accept contributions in larger amounts. It's a big advantage in the traditional world of candidate fundraising.

For example, GOP presidential prospects can charge attendees only the maximum contribution that the Federal Election Commission allows individuals to contribute to an official candidate.  The FEC has limited such contributions to $2,500 for the primary campaign and $2,500 for the general election. But an incumbent president can charge far more by raising additional funds through an account that is linked with the national party committee.

With the GOP nomination still looming, there is no settled Republican candidate to raise those big contributions on behalf of the national party committee.

(Allies of candidates can set up so-called super PACs that can raise unlimited funds, but those efforts technically have to be independent of the official campaign.)

Obama will attend an official fundraising dinner Monday evening at the private home of Mai and James Lassiter in Hancock Park, Calif. Tickets are $35,800 per person, which is the maximum that he can raise, between his official campaign account ($5,000 per person for the primary and general election) and an additional $30,800 on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.

That event will follow a Las Vegas lunch at the Bellagio Hotel, which will be attended by about 300 donors paying a minimum of $1,000. Another L.A. event occurs Monday evening at the home of Melanie Griffith-Banderas. Ticket prices start at $5,000. Approximately 120 are expected to attend. Campaign sources said expected guests include actress Eva Longoria and Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Julian Castro of San Antonio.

On Tuesday, Obama will attend a lunch at the W Hotel in San Francisco, where ticket prices start at $5,000 and approximately 200 people are expected to attend. The event will feature a performance by Jack Johnson.

Obama’s campaign will also have support from California’s venture capital and green energy communities, which remain loyal to the president.

As we reported in Monday's paper, one of those on recent calls to organize the West Coast and other events was Steven Spinner, the former Energy Department official who was in charge of the loan guarantee program that is now under
congressional scrutiny for granting $535 million to Solyndra, a now-bankrupt California solar manufacturer.

Administration officials said Spinner recused himself from discussions about the loan guarantee and played no role in the Solyndra decision because Spinner's wife was a partner in a law firm representing the failed firm. His wife did not accept compensation related to the deal. Still, the appearance of a potential conflict led to an agreement that Spinner would recuse himself from the administration's Solyndra deliberations.

Emails released by the administration and congressional investigators show Spinner incessantly interested and involved in the timing of the approval, cheering on the deal, pushing for a prompt decision, sending around an approval checklist, and asking about perceived delays from the White House budget staff.

tom.hamburger@latimes.com

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