President Obama – For all the talk about his grass-roots appeal to regular Americans and his supporters’ collective yeoman contributions that have made his campaign such an eclectic one, the reality is that President Barack Obama has had to increasingly rely on big-money donors in his bid for re-election.
And they continue to be rewarded handsomely for their efforts, usually in the form of access and other perks.
Big-shots like Kirk Wagar, a Florida lawyer who was given his choice of rooms for the Democratic Convention at Charlotte’s Ritz-Carlton or Westin hotels and nightly access to hospitality suites off the convention floor after raising more than $1 million for the president’s re-election bid.
Or Jay Snyder, a New York financier who was able to get his picture taken on the podium at the Time Warner Cable Arena after raising at least $560,000 for Obama.
His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has no shortage of deep-pocketed donors. That inescapable fact when coupled with the decisive advantage the GOP enjoys with the Super PACs raising cash on its behalf means that the Obama camp has to look beyond its $3 or $10 or $50 donations from its many hard-core supporters.
Obama’s top bundlers – people who gather checks from friends and business associates – raised or contributed at least $200 million to the president’s re-election bid and the Democratic National Committee as of May, the New York Times reported.
The campaign closely monitors its top bundlers, rating them by how much each individual or couple has raised and donated each year going back to 2007.
Officials used that amount, in turn, to offer donor packages of access and entertainment for the convention last week.
“It confirms everything we’ve always believed about the role of big money in politics,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group that tracks political fund-raising. “The more you give, the more you gather, the more you get.”
Each individual or couple is also assigned a lifetime Obama total. Topping the list is Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood producer, who, along with his fund-raising partner, Andy Spahn, has brought in at least $6.6 million combined for the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, according to the documents.
The top fund-raiser for 2011 and 2012 is Andrew Tobias, a Miami-based author who is treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and a major bundler for Mr. Obama among gay donors.
The practice is clearly beneficial to the president’s political life, but has often raised ethical questions as well when some of the wealthy individuals raising millions of dollars on his behalf have significant business or legal interests before the Obama administration.
Among the top 10 fund-raisers on the list for 2012, for example, is Steve Spinner, a former Department of Energy official who pushed the White House to approve a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra, the failed solar power company.
Romney has fielded an equally formidable high-dollar fund-raising machine this year and could raise as much or more than Mr. Obama during the election cycle. Like the Democrats, Republicans offered big donors an array of perks at their convention, held in Tampa, Fla., last month, including choice hotel access, boat trips and direct access to Romney himself.