Sweet column: '08 rivals dash for campaign cash. A look at the Obama fundraising operation.

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The e-mail fund-raising appeal on behalf of the John Edwards presidential campaign sent out Wednesday could not be more blunt:

"As you probably know," writes former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.), an Edwards senior adviser, "this Saturday at midnight marks the first major fund-raising deadline of this campaign -- which means we have less than 96 hours to show that our campaign has the support and momentum we need to put our agenda in front of voters nationwide. This first test couldn't be more important."

The test Bonior refers to is the "money primary," a political yardstick by which Democrats and Republicans running in the 2008 White House contests will be measured. The first quarter ends Saturday, with the results made public April 15.

The Edwards camp knows that the former North Carolina senator will have a tough time staying in the top tier of Democratic contenders -- with Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- if his first-quarter fund-raising totals are anemic.

That's why Bonior made this plea in his letter. "...I know this campaign can really transform America -- it's already begun. But to keep our momentum going, we've got to have a strong showing for this Saturday's fund-raising deadline. The press and the pundits will look at our fund-raising numbers at the end of this week and ask: 'Does the John Edwards campaign have what it takes to go the distance?'"

Obama basically had to build a national fund-raising organization from scratch. Since he launched his campaign Feb. 10, Obama will have headlined fund-raising events in at least 23 cities, including Chicago and Washington. Some cities with deep Democratic pockets he visited twice this quarter -- San Francisco, Boston and New York. Add to that countless hours on the phone talking to donors with extensive fund-raising networks who expect to get a pitch from the candidate himself. When in Washington, Obama goes to a storefront on Capitol Hill to make calls -- once the office of his Senate political action committee, named HOPEFUND, now converted to house presidential campaign functions.

Clinton had far more of an infrastructure in place by the time she announced her bid, with the foundations the fund-raising structures created for former President Bill Clinton, who has been a formidable surrogate in hitting the phones and headlining fund-raisers on her behalf. Clinton has visited 21 cities this first quarter, including Washington and New York. She is, I am told, more comfortable in making the "thank-you" calls to donors and spends considerable time on that end -- rather than the "ask" itself.

Though Clinton had a running start, Obama put together an impressive fund-raising organization, starting with his national fund-raising chairman, Penny Pritzker, from one of the city's most monied clans. The deputy national finance chair is Chicago attorney David Jacobson.

Obama's national finance director, Julianna Smoot, joined the campaign after raising millions for the Democratic Senate political operation for the 2006 contests. Her deputy, Ami Copeland, knows where the money is in Florida, coming to Obama's campaign after raising millions for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Between the two heads of Obama's professional fund-raising staff, they are plugged in to every Democratic high-donor network in the country.

Obama's campaign, headquartered in Chicago, has also been doing the obvious -- making sure that it is maximizing the output from Obama's hometown. Toward that end, the campaign tapped a member of one of Chicago's wealthiest families, James Crown, the president of Henry Crown and Co., to be the co-chairman of the Illinois Finance Committee. The other Illinois co-chairman is John Rogers, the founder and CEO of Ariel Capital Management Inc. Jordan Kaplan, the fund-raising professional who worked for HOPEFUND, has the Illinois account.

Added to all of this is the money the candidates will raise over the Internet. Clinton has sent e-mail appeals from her husband, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and, on Wednesday, from former Rep. Geraldine Ferrraro (D-N.Y.), who was the first female vice presidential nominee from a major party when Walter Mondale tapped her as his running mate 23 years ago.

I'm not going to speculate who is raising what. We'll know the numbers soon enough. Clinton does not want people to think that she has all the money she needs. That's why Ferraro added this P.S. to her letter: "Don't believe it when you read Hillary doesn't need your contribution -- trust me, she does."

There's never going to be enough, the way things are now -- especially with the prospects of what will amount to an expensive national primary next Feb. 5. That's why Obama is willing to voluntarily adhere to public campaign financing limits if he is the nominee -- if the GOP nominee would make the same pledge. Obama got a ruling from the Federal Election Commission to let a candidate stash general election money collected in escrow.
Just in case.


Obama and Hillary have never had trouble raising some impressive cash totals and probably won't run into any from here on out. Truthfully, they both don't even need any serious cash to stay at the top of the Dem heap. But is Obama still getting the Hollywood cash that he was raking in a few months ago?

"That's why Obama is willing to voluntarily adhere to public campaign financing limits if he is the nominee --" You really are one of those people who would not recognize a good deal if it bit you. Now you'd have us believe you are a mind reader that knows Obama's motivation. MAYBE he is just doing what he thinks is best. You make Obama's case "The enemy is cynicism". Thank-you.

The ability to raise cash isn't a measurement of performance or leadership. Obama may talk nice, but he's proved himself a follower who can't stand up to the Rethuglicans. I wish he would do Illinois a favor and resign from the Senate to pursue this vanity driven presidential bid. Otherwise, he's just proving how he lacks real confidence in his run.

Lynn, it was not a fundraising operation from scracth. Question, how much of Obama's operation from his senate run was still in place? Add Pritzer and Smoot to the equation and you have a VERY strong operation. Granted it was not as strong as Clinton and Pritzer and Smoot deserve credit for that.
Question, why did it take him until Tuesday to make that announcement and isn't it four million short of what his people floated. Me thinks some really creative number crunching went into that 20 million dollar total. Lastly, I'm sorry but there is a big difference between 20 and 26 million. Impressive yes, that impressive no. Frankly I think both Obama and Hillary fell short of the mark. This tells me that there are a lot of people out there that haven't given anything to anybody.
The polls and the donations won't get interesting until after the first debate, then it on for real.

Barrack is the answer and not AI. However, for some reason he seems to have lost a little "Big Mo". He is a wonderful guy but at this point he has to take the gloves off and start exposing Mrs. Clinton for the fraud that she is. It is not too early to start doing this. Iraq War: Mrs. Clinton is still waffling on this. She said in Iowa that she wasn't familiar with the Feingold-Reid bill to cut off funds for the Iraq fiasco. This is another cop out on her part--avoid taking a stand again. Experience: Barrack has more practical experience serving as an Illinois legislater and social activist than Mrs. Clinton. Show me any significant legislation that she has authored? Little people: Clinton is more of a republican than anything. What has she or her husband ever done for blacks, the little guy, or people without means? Come on Barrack it's time for you to take the gloves off and start to close out the fight!

The first comments from "Matt" refer to another blog with a hidden agenda.

The blog http://www.political-buzz.com asks questions such as "Is Obama beating Hillary in the fundraising race?" Then the three choices all infer that Obama is winning, and there is not a "no" answer. If it's a contest between Hillary and Obama, Clinton will win everytime. It's not even a contest.

Hillary will be running for president and Obama will be her vice-presidential running mate. Everyone knows that. Why do you think they are always so friendly to each other? It's ridiculous to even deny this.

Thanks, Ms. Sweet, for your illuminating piece. I've been on the fence as to which candidate I'll support - anybody but Hillary. Well, thanks to your clip from Bonior's letter, I will enthusiastically get behind John Edwards' campaign. When Sen. Obama announced his candidacy - and the principles he embraces - I wept. To allow Bonior's quote in a fundraising letter greatly disappoints me and, unless Obama wins the nomination, I will not support his candidacy. Edwards in '04!!!

What we have to understand here is that the whole thing is just plain nutz. It takes 10 months to go from the first caucus in Iowa to the real election. Many countries in the world hold national elections on 30-days notice. We are the laughing stock of the world. We start primaries in the month that has the worst weather and begin in states that have the worst weather, and we cannot understand why turnout is low. Now we have a fundraising primary a year early!
The primary system exists to give some small state political hacks 15-second head shots on the national news and to get some campaign money thrown their way. This is done with tremendous damage to the political system. First, it makes the process so expensive that voter choice is limited to those who have money. Candidates have to set up organizations across the nation and buy ads in local media that are soon obsolete when attention moves on to the next primary. Some people say the problem is money in politics. I say that the problem is that it costs so much, and it costs so much because it is so inefficient. Second, it promotes candidate dishonesty by letting them promise one thing to win an early primary and something different a few weeks later in a different primary. Third, it encourages pandering to minute local issues -- remember how the South Carolina state flag became an issue in 2000. Fourth, over the period of candidate selection (January through July) the situation may change, so that a candidate elected early may be totally out-of-touch by the time of the convention or election. Imagine how things would have been different if the events of 9/11 occurred in 2000 instead of 2001.
The long run solution to this problem is to conduct voting on the internet over an extended period of time with a simultaneous start and stop across the country. The two big holdbacks are financing it and making sure people don't vote more than once in more than one election . Today local governments subsidize primaries to around $20 per vote. There should be a way to divert this to a national computer effort. People should be allowed to change their vote during the period and even change what party they vote in so long as their votes total 1.
A short run improvement would be rationalizing the primary process with rotating regional primaries held when the weather is decent, say June to July.

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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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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 29, 2007 11:18 AM.

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