Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Sweet column: Was ok, now it's not. An Obama 180 on taking PAC money. Bans money from federal lobbyists, PACs, kid "fronts" in 2008 bid.


Barack Obama launches his White House bid with almost nothing in the bank. His chief rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has more than a $10-million running start for use in her presidential quest. In the money game, even Joe Biden is ahead, with some $4 million in his various campaign warchests.

As scooped in my blog Wednesday afternoon, Obama is tapping Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker to be the national finance chairman of his presidential campaign. Pritzker is a member of one of the wealthiest clans in the nation.

The Pritzker family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain, one of the biggest and richest private corporations in the United States.

Pritzker has a long history as a donor and, more important for a mega-fund-raiser, a golden Rolodex she can tap on Obama's behalf. Pritzker was on the finance committee for Obama's 2004 Senate run. She is the founder, chairman and CEO of Classic Residence by Hyatt. She is also the chairman of the board of TransUnion Corp.

Don't assume, however, that she will bring on board all the monied members of her family.

Pritzker will have to raise millions of dollars in the next few weeks just to keep Obama competitive with Clinton. Obama is a terrific fund-raiser. But Clinton and President Clinton have been at it since 1991 and are hard-wired into affluent Democratic pockets.

By the way in 2003, Penny Pritzker donated $2,000 for President Bush's re-election.

Obama ended last year with only $516,553 cash on hand in his political action committee, the Hopefund. Out of that amount Obama paid for political expenses in January for the runup to his presidential bid, so he really has less at the starting gate.

Obama is creating a new committee to take in cash for his campaign. The official kickoff is Feb. 10 at the Old State Capital in Springfield. He then flies to Iowa to whip up interest in the crucial first-in-the-country caucus state and overnights there.

The next day, however, is as absolutely critical to Obama as any goodwill and press he gets from Hawkeye voters.

The first major fund-raiser for Obama's presidential campaign is Feb. 11 in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Wacker Drive. He's asking for "hosts" to raise $2,300, "friends" to write a $1,000 check and "guests" to throw in $500.

He'll need to raise at least $1 million from this one event to get in the game.

As much as Obama will be campaigning in the four states with the leadoff presidential primary votes -- Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he will be fund-raising in the cities that play a big role in the as important money primary.

On Feb. 20, Obama hits Beverly Hills. He has a massive fund-raiser with the stars at the Beverly Hilton hosted by movie moguls David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg.

As an incentive to hustle, people who raise at least $46,000 will be invited to a dinner party at Geffen's house.

Another don't asstume is that Spielberg is backing Obama just because he is helping him raise money. Spielberg may end up in the Clinton camp. He's also hosting an event for Clinton in the spring.

Obama opens his presidential fund-raising drive with a laudable self-imposed ban on accepting money from federal lobbyists, political action committees, registered foreign agents and youths under the age of 16.

A common scam for rich donors is to get around federal giving limits by writing checks in the names of their kids -- students or tots who are being used by their parents.

Obama's conversion to a high standard comes with his White House run.

But he's been willing to take PAC money in the past -- more than $1 million.

While his new standard is welcome, it opens the doors for this question: Should he try to refund PAC and lobby money he has taken in the past?


"Should he try to refund PAC and lobby money he has taken in the past?"

Ms. Sweet,

I don't think so because I would like to see more pols adopt a no-PAC policy.

Expecting pols to return PAC money that they already received would create an unnecessary impediment to the adoption of a prospective no-PAC fundraising strategy.


Sure, Obama should return that $1 million in PAC funds -- just as soon as the other candidates impose the same restrictions on their fund-raising that Obama has on his campaign.

Isn't that enough? Let's not get carried away here!

Perhaps Obama should quit smoking and that should put a few more dollars in his coffers. Or better yet. He'll count on the tobacco lobbyists who'll soon become some of his closest friends.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 1, 2007 9:15 AM.

Biden apology to Obama was the previous entry in this blog.

Sweet Scoop: Obama national HQ to be on Michigan Ave. is the next entry in this blog.

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