Obama’s team raising unlimited convention funds
August 1, 2008
WASHINGTON ” Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama has put his fundraising team to work helping raise unlimited donations from big donors for the cash-hungry Democratic National Convention.
Federal campaigns are not permitted to raise unrestricted amounts of money from wealthy donors, unions or corporations except when fundraising for the host committees that finance national presidential conventions.
Last month, the convention’s Denver host committee reported an $11.6 million shortfall in its mid-June fundraising goal of $40.6 million.
Since then, Obama announced that he would give his nomination acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High stadium, significantly increasing convention costs. Convention organizers put the Invesco cost at $5 million-$5.5 million, but say that not using Pepsi Center on the fourth night will save enough to bring the overall increase closer to $4 million.
Organizers had, in part, blamed the lengthy Democratic primary for their fundraising difficulties.
“Now that we have a candidate it has definitely helped in our efforts,” said Steve Farber, a Denver lawyer and lobbyist who is the host committee’s chief fundraiser. “Before you had a lot of people on the sidelines saying, ‘Let me see who the nominee is and then we’ll talk.'”
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Fundraising for the Republican National Convention has been on target and presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign said McCain has not participated in fundraising for the event.
The Obama campaign declined to say whether Obama himself has solicited money as part of this effort, but members of his vaunted fundraising team have been involved and the campaign gave the host committee a list of his donors to hit up.
In helping raise money for the convention, the Obama campaign can seek sums significantly larger than the $2,300 maximum donations allowed by individuals for his campaign.
Campaign finance watchdog groups say the exception in the law that allows host committees to raise unlimited amounts of money is a loophole that should be closed.
“There is a greater concern when members of Congress are raising the money, and, of course, Sen. Obama is a sitting senator,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “This being the case, it’s definitely valid to question what the motives are behind these donations and whether such candidates would feel beholden to these companies.”
The Obama camp says that in assisting the host committee Obama intends to abide by his decision not to solicit money from lobbyists. Obama has also applied the ban on lobbyists’ money to the Democratic National Committee.
“We are working together and confident that we will raise the funds necessary to have a successful convention in Denver,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said. “We are going to continue not raising money from lobbyists, even if raising for the host committee.”
Obama has made much of the number of small donors who contributed to his campaign. Indeed, he has by far the largest number of contributions of $200 or less of any candidate in the presidential primary contests. Last month, he told reporters: “Do we have some big donors? Absolutely. But that’s not what drives our campaign.”
But big money is what drives the conventions. And the money is largely from corporations, many of which have legislative interests. A study by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute updated this month found that the 146 organizational donors to the Democratic and Republican conventions that have already been identified have spent $1.1 billion to lobby the federal government on legislation and regulation since 2005.
Obama’s finance director, Julianna Smoot, was in Denver this week meeting with convention organizers.
Farber said the Obama camp supplied names of donors and fundraisers “that we can contact and get support.”
“Most of the outreach has come from us,” he said, adding: “That’s not to say that we have not received help from a lot of the people in the Obama campaign.”
The Denver host committee originally had a target of $55 million in private donations ” now closer to $60 million with Invesco Field. The Democratic and Republican conventions also will get $16.5 million each in public money ” from the presidential fund financed by taxpayers who choose to designate $3 on their tax returns each year.
“We’re still a little bit short, but I’m not worried about it,” said the Rev. Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee. “The (Obama) campaign is on the ground, and they’re helping out. And, you know, we’ll have all the money that we need to pay everybody on time according to their contracts.”