Inside the Obama fund-raising machine: leadership circles

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 15, 2012 11:38 PM
Inside the Obama fund-raising machine: leadership circles

By Eric Johnson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and its key supporters are looking to grow on a national scale a fundraising effort targeting rich individual donors that was successful in its Democratic stronghold of Chicago, according to sources familiar with the program.

Eager to widen its donor base, the Obama campaign is using its team of top fundraisers and donors to distribute marketing materials to thousands of potential top-dollar donors across the nation. Those who donate $5,000 -- the maximum legal contribution to a Presidential candidate in the 2012 cycle -- will gain a stream of perks large and small, sources said.

The benefits could include free entry to campaign fundraisers featuring the President, access to strategy sessions at headquarters, and pizza parties at the homes of supporters to watch upcoming voting contests to pick the Republican candidate challenging Obama for the White House in 2012.

The campaign hopes to draw thousands to this category of donor, which so far includes roughly 80 people in Chicago, the Democratic bastion where Obama has supporters with deep pockets.

Members of the pilot group, called the "Chicago Leadership Circle," paid $5,000 either in a lump sum or over five months to get "unparalleled networking opportunities" to meet with campaign officials and key political operatives coming to Chicago for events and strategy meetings, according to sources and the program's marketing materials.

Some of the campaign's regional fundraising efforts could incorporate parts of the plan, according to a person involved with the concept, but each of the regional efforts are free to take pieces of this program or abstain.

The idea addresses concerns in the Obama campaign that well-off and passionate supporters who had already contributed the maximum $5,000 could not attend more fundraising events where supporters donate to hear or briefly meet with the President.

"The model of political fundraising for party and candidate is a little flawed," said a key supporter for the campaign and a Chicago Leadership Circle member. "The notion is to get people to max out ... and get people with shared values engaged in the campaign with multiple points of involvement."

"We've gotten calls from multiple jurisdictions" such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Dallas, Texas, "and sent sample literature to other places," the CLC member added.

A spokesman for the Obama campaign declined to comment on the expansion of the fund-raising efforts.

President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and its Democratic allies announced on January 12 that they raised more than $68 million in the last three months of 2011, eclipsing his Republican rivals in the White House race.

Obama's Campaign Manager Jim Messina, a former White House aide, described that quarterly fund-raising effort as "pretty good."

One of the challenges for the Obama campaign and its Democratic allies, who have brought in more than $200 million in 2011, is to rally the support of disillusioned donors from 2008 who have yet to open their wallets to Obama.

The Obama team is shooting to top the roughly $750 million it raised when he was elected president in 2008.

The closest rival in fund-raising on the campaign's heals is Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, whose campaign said on Wednesday it had raised $24 million in the fourth quarter.

(Editing By Peter Bohan)