WASHINGTON--President Obama's elite corps of fund-raisers meet in Chicago this week, scratching a Thursday evening cruise so they can watch Obama's jobs address to Congress at his Prudential Building campaign headquarters.
Two top Obama White House officials--Peter Rouse and Stephanie Cutter--and Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.)-- will fly to Chicago to brief the mega fund-raisers, known as "bundlers." The cruise, planned to kick off the two-day meeting, was cancelled once Obama's jobs speech was scheduled for Thursday before a joint session of Congress.
On Friday, there will be break out sessions at the Palmer House with top Obama campaign officials. One session will feature Ira Forman, the former chief of the National Jewish Democratic Council, hired last month to direct Obama's outreach to Jewish voters. Jewish donors have been major big money Obama backers and the campaign fund-raising department has staffers devoted to working with Jewish contributors--as well as other constitutient groups.
Within the Democratic Jewish community, some are upset with Obama's handling of Mideast issues, others are concerned about his administrations' domestic agenda.
With so much pocketbook power in Chicago, Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine--well known to the Obama bundlers because he is a former DNC chairman--will hold a fund-raiser himself Thursday evening at the downtown Smith & Wollensky to tap into the Obama donor base. Among the Chicago Obama bundlers on the Kaine host committee for the Thursday event are John Atkinson, Wally Brewster, Steve Cohen, Les Coney, Vicki Heyman, Laura Ricketts, Bob Satawake and Grace Tsao-Wu. Kaine has another fund-raiser at the East Bank Club on Thursday morning.
Obama tapped Kaine for the DNC spot; Kaine stepped down to run for the Senate. While Obama won Virginia in 2008 with a big assist from Kaine, then the governor, Obama faces a tougher challenge in 2012. Virginia is a major focus for the Obama team; Obama will be helped if Kaine mounts a strong campaign for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). Obama heads to Richmond, Va. on Friday, to follow-up on his Thursday jobs speech.
Bundlers tap into their own extensive networks to find donors to raise money for candidates. They are crucial to White House and congressional races because there is a legal limit to the amount of money individuals can donate to federal candidates: $2,500 for a primary, $2,500 for a general election and $30,800 to a national party each calendar year.
The purpose of the briefings is to "keep people educated on what is happening," a source told me. There are three categories of elite donors and fundraisers invited to the Obama headquarters:
*National Finance Committee members, who pledged to raise $350,000 this year.
*National Advisory Board members, who promised to raise $30,800 for the DNC each year for four years.
*Presidential Partners, who pledged to donate $75,800 over two years; this year $30,800 to the DNC and $5,000 for Obama 2012. The Presidential Partners program was launched earlier this year, designed to appeal to people who want to donate but not bundle.
Last July, the Obama re-election team released the names of their more than 244 mega fund-raisers including 31 who raised at least $500,000 to bankroll the Obama 2012 campaign and the Democratic National Committee. So far, no Republican running for president in 2012 disclosed their bundlers.
Obama's National Finance Committee met in Chicago last May.
Obama kicked off his re-election campaign in April with several events in Chicago and returned on Aug. 3 for more fund-raising events at the Aragon Ballroom.
Obama backers donated more than $86 million in second quarter fund-raising: over $47 million directly for the Obama for America 2012 campaign and more than $38 million for the Democratic National Committee.
Chicagoan and close Obama friend Martin Nesbitt is the Obama for America treasurer, reprising the role he played in the 2008 campaign.