Second City

Past Obama Fundraisers Slowly Stepping Up for Hillary Clinton

She has work to do to make Chicago her kind of town.

Who’s Winning the 2016 Money Game?

By November of 2012, President Barack Obama had 46 individuals or couples in his adopted home state of Illinois who had raised $100,000 or more for his re-election campaign. So far, just four of them have collected that much money for Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, who was born and raised in Illinois.

The gap is roughly the same nationally, with just more than one in 10 of those who helped raise at least six figures for Obama's re-election having done so for Clinton, a Bloomberg Politics analysis shows. The early numbers are a progress report, not a definitive assessment of Clinton's fundraising strength. She's not an incumbent, as Obama was in 2012. She not even her party's nominee, and she's still building her 2016 money network.

Still, the figures, along with interviews of some of the president's chief backers in Chicago, suggest that Clinton isn't going to automatically inherit Obama's money tree. That may prove to be especially true in the town the president calls home, one of the nation's top fundraising stops and a source of early and sustained strength for Obama's campaigns.

“I don't know if I will become a bundler for her,” said Alan Solow, a Chicago lawyer who was a national co-chairman for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. “My focus hasn't been as much on the Clinton campaign, but I am a supporter.”

“Bundler” is political jargon for those who solicit money from wide circles of fellow donors. Many are later rewarded, if their candidate wins the White House, with appointments to ambassadorships, invitations to state dinners, and other perks.

Obama heavily relied on Chicago cash to beat Clinton in their epic 2008 nomination battle, so it's only natural that his longtime donors might be slower to support her.

“I was involved with Barack because I'm close to Barack,” said Judson Miner, a one-time boss and mentor at a Chicago law firm where Obama worked before entering politics. “I would not get involved with Hillary in the same way.”

President-elect Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton leave a press conference after she was named his choice for secretary of state at the Hilton Hotel on Dec. 1, 2008, in Chicago.
President-elect Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton leave a press conference after she was named his choice for secretary of state at the Hilton Hotel on Dec. 1, 2008, in Chicago.
Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Miner, who raised at least $200,000 for Obama's re-election campaign, said he'll support Clinton if she wins the nomination, but doesn't plan to “get involved” in the primary in a major financial way.

Some past Obama fundraisers in Illinois are actively soliciting money for Clinton, but haven't yet crossed the $100,000 threshold that triggers their voluntary disclosure by her campaign. In other words, the proportion of past Obama bundlers in Clinton's network will continue to grow.

Solow, who raised at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012, said it isn't realistic to expect that Clinton will have the same level of financial support from Chicago as Obama enjoyed. “Is it going to be as strong a stronghold as it was for Barack Obama? I think that's a pretty high standard, considering he was a senator from the state and lived here,” he said.

The ramp-up in fundraising for Obama's future presidential library on the city's South Side isn't expected to discourage Chicago's donor class from making contributions to Clinton and other Democratic candidates. “I do not think it will be substantial impediment to the Clinton campaign,” Solow said.

By the time he was re-elected, Obama boasted 601 individuals or couples who raised at least $100,000 for him, according to his bundler disclosure, maintained by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. Clinton's campaign lists a total of 209 individuals or couples who had raised at least $100,000 through Sept. 30, winning them the designation of “Hillblazers.”

She has a total of seven from Illinois, including four who bundled for Obama. Media and printing entrepreneur Fred Eychaner, a longtime Clinton family patron, is among those four former Obama fundraisers in Illinois who have already raised six figures for her. In 2008, Eychaner was the rare Chicagoan who backed Clinton over Obama in the primary race. After Obama secured the nomination, Eychaner contributed money to the future president's campaign and hosted a fundraiser at his home featuring Michelle Obama.

The three others from Illinois who have raised at least $100,000 for Clinton already are Raj Fernando, chief executive at Chopper Trading; Lee Miller, chairman emeritus at the DLA Piper law firm; and Amalia Mahoney, a former art gallery director and philanthropist.

Clinton is working hard to tap into those same deep pockets in Chicago and Illinois, even if she hasn't quite yet matched Obama's strength there. When former President Bill Clinton started to raise money for his wife's campaign, his very first stop was Chicago.

The former president's mid-September visit, which included a fundraiser at the home of the chief executive officer of Chicago-based Spaan Tech and another at a technology company incubator, was just one in the many presidential fundraising tours through the city in recent months.

While east and west coast money centers often get much of the political fundraising attention, middle-America Chicago has emerged as an increasingly important stop for Democrats and Republicans running for the nation's top political job.

Chicago's prominence has been boosted in the past eight years by Obama's campaigns, which put a spotlight on new fundraisers in the city. “I had never done anything like that before,” Miner said of his fundraising in 2008 and 2012 for Obama.

Among cities, Chicago ranks fifth nationally for total itemized contributions from individuals to Clinton and her fellow Democratic candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, a Bloomberg analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows. It ranks below New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

There's another reason America's “Second City” is a fundraising hub, especially at this stage of the campaign: It's often hard to get to Iowa, where the first nomination contest will be held Feb. 1, without going through Chicago.

Presidential candidates headed to the first-in-the-nation caucus state often book fundraising visits in the Chicago area on their way into or out of Iowa. Democrats tend to hold fundraising events in or near the Loop, as residents call the central part of downtown, while Republicans gather in both the city and some of its wealthy suburbs.

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