By Kim Dixon and Eric Johnson
WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) - The number of donors who raise big money for President Barack Obama jumped in the last three months as he builds a war chest for what will likely be the costliest presidential election ever.
At least forty-one people have raised at least half a million dollars for the president, compared to 27 in Obama's first report, according to an analysis of campaign data released on Friday.
The big donors, known as "bundlers," are typically well-connected people who pledge to gather tens of thousands of dollars for a candidate
Former Goldman Sachs executive Jon Corzine and Dreamworks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg are on Obama's elite list and raised $500,000 or more.
The president's campaign finance report shows he can still pull in major cash despite a stagnant economy, dipping approval ratings and grumblings among some liberal supporters that he has not done enough for their cause.
While still keeping ties to his famed small donor operation, Obama is relying heavily on major donors early on to finance a campaign that is likely to break records in spending, according to Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College.
"The emphasis has been on doing larger dollar fundraising events particularly asking for $2,500," Corrado said. "Events like this help him to raise substantial amounts of money for the campaign allowing him to exceed his pace for 2007."
Obama and the Democratic National Committee have raised more than $150 million so far for his bid for a second term, far outstripping Obama's Republican rivals. Bundlers raised about a third of that haul.
Earlier on Friday, Republican Mitt Romney posted $14 million for the quarter, second to fellow Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry's $17 million. Obama's comparable fundraising figure for the three months was $43 million.
Obama voluntarily releases a list of bundlers. No other major candidate has done so.
The president regularly brings in more than $1 million in a single evening of fundraising, as supporters donate the legal maximum of $35,800 to his campaign and the Democratic party for the chance to have dinner and take a picture with the president.
UBS executive Robert Wolf and hedge fund executive Orin Kramer are also big Obama fundraisers.
At least 40 percent of all the money raised by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee last quarter came from those giving in increments of $200 or less.
The Obama campaign has been touting its connections to mainstream Americans who send smaller checks, calling itself a grassroots effort.
"They are still doing well with small donors," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a think tank.
The campaign said that in the third quarter about 600,000 people donated to the campaign.
Much has been made of dipping support among Wall Street for Obama. Some financial executives, including hedge fund managers, have complained about Obama's tax and financial regulation policies and his comments about the wealthy, at times calling them "fat cats."
In the second quarter, more Wall Street money did flow to Romney, who has deep ties there. Still, Obama boosted the number of bundlers with Wall Street ties in that period.
But fundraising prowess doesn't guarantee victory for the incumbent, who is fighting for re-election amid a economic stagnation and high unemployment.
"Every bit of news like this gives people a certain degree of confidence that they are on the right train," said Paul Gray, a Chicago art dealer who is raising money for Obama.
"But the most compelling kind of data that we could receive right now is positive financial data about the U.S. economy."
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Todd Eastham)
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