Obama Returns to New York to Raise Money, Dine With Bankers

The last time President Barack Obama flew to New York for a Broadway show, it was for a long-promised date with his wife.

Today’s New York trip was a less intimate affair: a $1,250-per-person fundraiser with gay and lesbian activists and a $35,800-per-plate dinner with Wall Street bankers. After dinner was a performance of the musical “Sister Act,” where he will be joined by the show’s producer, actress Whoopi Goldberg, and young Democratic donors.

The dinner at Daniel, a restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, drew some of Obama’s biggest donors to the 2008 campaign, as well as some who initially backed his rival for the party’s nomination, then-Senator Hillary Clinton.

“There’s a disquiet out there,” the president told the wealthy donors, because people “recognize that we haven’t yet broken through to the future that we want.”

When the president mentioned withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, he got a round of applause from the crowd of about 70 donors.

He reiterated his message that the 2012 political campaign is “about a set of contrasting visions” between the Republicans’ “cramped” vision that would cut entitlements and the Democrats’ “big generous vision” of America.

On the deficit talks, which stalled today after Republicans pulled out, he said one vision wants to “shrink” the government to size it was in 1930s, while his party’s vision “says we’re going to have to share sacrifice.”

Wealthy Donors

Among those who were to dine with Obama at Daniel were Robert Wolf, chairman of UBS Americas; Blair W. Effron, partner and co-founder of Centerview Partners LLP; Marc Lasry, managing partner and founder of Avenue Capital Group; Mark Gallogly, a managing principal of Centerbridge Partners; James Rubin, managing director of BC Partners; and Frank Brosens of Taconic Capital Advisors LP, according to a party official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the list hadn’t been made public.

Obama is making his third trip to New York in four months to raise money for the Democratic Party and his presidential campaign before the June 30 deadline to report donations through the second quarter. The president has attended 27 donor events since January, helping the Democratic National Committee outpace its Republican counterpart. Through May 31, the DNC has taken in $45.5 million, compared with $30.5 million collected by the Republican National Committee, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Courting Financiers

Jim Messina, the former White House deputy chief of staff who is running Obama’s re-election campaign, has been reaching out to financial service industry executives. Last month, he met at Lasry’s home with former Clinton supporters to encourage them to donate to the Obama re-election campaign, according to a person familiar to the matter.

Messina also is asking the campaign’s top fundraisers to each collect at least $350,000 in 2011 alone. Four years ago, members of Obama’s national finance committee were asked to raise $250,000 for the two-year 2007-08 election cycle.

Members of the financial services industry have expressed frustration with some of Obama’s rhetoric on banker bonuses, raising questions about whether he will get the same level of support from the industry as he did in 2008. Last August, Daniel Loeb, who runs the New York-based hedge fund Third Point and raised money for Obama in 2008, sent a letter to his investors that questioned the Obama administration’s commitment to free enterprise, according to the New York Times.

Financial Industry Backing

John Emerson, an Obama backer who is president of Capital Guardian Trust Company, said the president’s support for the Troubled Assets Relief Program and the measures that tightened financial regulations has bolstered his position with Wall Street.

“There’s a broad consensus among people in the financial services industry that we needed greater oversight that things got out of control,” said Emerson, who raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama in 2008 and is Southern California co-chairman for the president’s 2012 campaign. “Candidly, the financial services industry hasn’t done too badly in the last year and half.”

At the first event in New York tonight, Obama told gay rights activists and supporters that he believes New York is doing “exactly what democracies are supposed to do” by considering legislation that would allow same-sex couples to wed.

Legal Rights

He told the 500 Democratic Party donors from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that he believes gay and lesbian couples “deserve the same legal rights as every other couple in this country,” while stopping short of endorsing same-sex marriage. He didn’t respond to a member of the audience who yelled, “Say yes to marriage.”

While Obama has taken steps backed by gay activists, such as working to repeal the Pentagon’s ban on homosexuals openly serving in the military, and does support civil unions, he hasn’t backed same-sex marriage.

“I’m sure he will mention it and I think make the point that, as he always has, that he believes that this is something that states should be able to decide,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with the president.

At the third fund-raising event, where the price for seeing “Sister Act” included a $100 contribution to the DNC, Obama noted that the budget debate in Washington is “going to start heating up and we’re going to have to make some very, very tough decisions.”

“This is not just a budget question; this is a values question,” he told the audience in the sold-out Broadway Theatre. The federal deficit shouldn’t be reduced “on the backs of those without a voice,” he said.

After the fundraisers, Obama, 49, will fly to Pittsburgh tonight for an event tomorrow at Carnegie Mellon University to discuss manufacturing policy.

Earlier today, he visited Fort Drum, New York, to thank members of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division for their service in Afghanistan.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE