Chicago Sun-Times
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Sweet column: Obama's donor courtship


While Chicago was, naturally, fertile fund-raising turf for Democratic White House hopeful Barack Obama, his top state for first quarter cash was California, and his donor list is sprinkled with big names from the entertainment industry.

Besides stars who wrote checks to Obama, the Illinois senator also heav-ily relied on a relatively small group of big donors to help him raise $25.8 million in just three months, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed Sunday.

• From the entertainment world, here's a sampling of Obama's big names: actors Eddie Murphy, Barbra Steisand, Tom Hanks, Angela Bassett, Zach Braff, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller; producer/director James Brooks; music producer Steve McKeever (a graduate of St. Ignatius High School); musician Branford Marsalis, and songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. And, as much reported, the Dreamwork moguls David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, who hosted a Beverly Hills bash for Obama in February.

Obama also received donations from at least eight executives from Island Def Jam executives, whose artists include the rapper Ludacris, whose song lyrics have been criticized for promoting sex, drugs and violence. Ludacris, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, appeared with Obama at a rally in Atlanta last month. The rapper met with Obama in Chicago last November to talk about AIDS awareness.

I am mentioning this because, in the wake of the Don Imus controversy in which the shock jock smeared the Rutgers basketball team with racial and sexual slurs, Obama in South Carolina last Friday said at a rally, in response to a question, that some rappers are "degrading their sisters. That doesn't inspire me."

To note: Big names don't equal mega-donations. Federal rules limit an individual donation to a maximum of $2,300 per election. A person can donate $2,300 for the presidential primary and $2,300 for the general election -- money that can be used only if the candidate becomes the nominee. Most of the celebs in the list above gave at least $2,300.

• ZIP codes in Chicago accounted for $3,654,265 of Obama's total, with his hometown his best city. His top Chicago ZIP codes are 60614 and 60611, which includes wealthy neighborhoods in the city and downtown; many givers list their business address for federal records and not where they live. Of Obama's top five ZIP codes, four were from Chicago and the fifth was from Manhattan, 10021.

• Obama is making an enormous effort to stroke big donors who can use their influential networks to "bundle" checks for him. According to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute of Obama's $25.8 million, 46 percent of it was raised by donors who gave at least $2,300. Some 68 percent of Obama's total was raised by people who gave at least $1,000.

How did Obama do so well in New York? For starters, he has a full-time professional fund-raiser, Jenny Yeager, who raised money for his Senate war chests, based in New York.

Exactly how the deal is done is well-explained in the current issue of New York Magazine, where Obama is featured on the cover. Writer John Heilemann provides a detailed look at how ardently Obama wooed Manhattan donors, including the "courtship" of investment banker and top-tier donor, Robert Wolf, who he first met last December. Then Obama called him to chat and "the next week, they had dinner in Washington, just the two of them," Heilemann wrote.

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This information seems to contradict what we have been told about Obama's campaign funds. It is out there that most of Obama's funding comes from the small donors, who donate under $50.00. I just listened to a video where he said "I want everybody here to pony up $5.00, $10.00 for this campaign. I don't care how poor you are, you got $5.00". I find this a completely tasteless statement. You know some people actually do depend on that $5.00. It may be all they have, and for him to say that he does not care how poor you are, he needs your money to put with his millions digusts me.

I just read in the Chicago Sun Times, that while Barak was a State Senator, he continued to work for the Law Firm where he handled Rezco's sleezy housing deals. By the way, Rezco and he were FRIENDS for 17 years. Then of course we have Michele's University of Chicago Hospital Vice Presidency, where she made $100,000.00, until Obama became a Senator, then she got a raise of $195,000.00 for a total of 300,000.00. While this hospital was a non profit hospital but made a large profit and was the recipient of Federal money from Barak Obama while a Senator. Their profit was made from charging poor blacks 5 times what they charged whites with insurance. This is just the tip of the inceberg about Barak's background.

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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 April 19, 2007 7:15 AM.

Sweet blog scoop: Clinton's first Chicago fundraiser May 7 at the Palmer House. was the previous entry in this blog.

CNN's Larry King asks Bill Clinton about the "Senator Obama threat." is the next entry in this blog.

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