Federal Politics

Published — June 12, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Obama’s rainmakers

1.5 million donors — but 328 big bundlers

Introduction

Traditionally, the practice of “bundling” — pooling together a large number of donations — is a common and often essential part of campaign fundraising. Presidential candidates rely on the work of their wealthy and well-connected supporters to haul in huge amounts of cash, sometimes bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has tried to break the mold, employing a revolutionary fundraising process that relies heavily on small donors — up to 88 percent of his total funds come directly from those individual donations. But Obama is not exactly ignoring those supporters with deeper pockets and extensive connections. An analysis of his campaign’s 328 bundlers, who have raised anywhere from $50,000 to more than $200,000, reveals that they have brought in at least $31.65 million, accounting for at least 11.9 percent of Obama’s total fundraising haul of more than $265 million. Of those 328 bundlers, 78 individuals brought in about $15.6 million dollars to the campaign — at least 5.8 percent of his total funds.

Fourteen of Obama’s bundlers are lobbyists, according to Public Citizen, a nonprofit public interest organization founded by Ralph Nader that tracks bundlers through its White House for Sale project. Rival John McCain, the group reports, has 70 lobbyists working as bundlers.

Even without bundling, Obama would still likely crush McCain’s fundraising total of about $97 million. In fact, the $31 million-plus brought in by Obama’s bundlers accounts for a minimum of nearly one-third of McCain’s total haul. (And McCain’s campaign has also identified 107 bundlers.)

In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry raised $248 million for the primary. His more than 500 bundlers brought in a total of at least $41.5 million in the primary—about 17 percent of the total. So prodigious is Obama’s fundraising that, even with some 200 fewer bundlers and a reliance on small donors, his campaign has raised almost as much through bundling as Kerry.

In the interest of full disclosure, the Obama campaign has published its list of bundlers online, but at least one name seems to be missing. Robert Blackwell, a Chicago entrepreneur who has known Obama since his days in the Illinois State Senate, is a longtime supporter of the candidate.

According to Alex Cohen, a senior researcher at Public Citizen, the Obama campaign removed Blackwell’s name from their list after the Los Angeles Times ran an unflattering story detailing Obama and Blackwell’s financial relationship. The Times reports that Obama requested a tourism grant to benefit the Blackwell company, Killerspin, after he received a total of $112,000 to give “legal advice” to Blackwell’s technology firm for over a year.

Cohen said Public Citizen has not received a “straight answer” from the campaign as to why Blackwell’s name was removed.

Ben LaBolt, Obama campaign spokesman, said Blackwell is not listed because he did not meet his fundraising goal and is no longer a bundler for the campaign. He said the campaign would welcome Blackwell as a fundraiser and disclose his name on its website, should he express any interest in doing so.

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