- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2011

President Obama raised more money toward his re-election from 351 well-connected “bundlers” than any of his rivals raised in total in the third quarter. The elite group of volunteer fundraisers, to whom the president will be heavily indebted, collected at least $20 million — and likely far more — of the $70 million Mr. Obama brought in, including party funds tied to his campaign.

Yet despite slagging approval ratings, Mr. Obama also has displayed a continued ability to motivate a broad base. On the last day of the quarter, 7,500 donations of $200 or more came flooding in, totaling more than $2 million. No candidate has ever brought in so many contributions on one day this far ahead of the general election.

The money has allowed Mr. Obama’s campaign to invest early in infrastructure across the country, employing more than 300 staff in 40 states, according to a Washington Times analysis of campaign finance reports filed last weekend. He spent less than a third of the money raised, and has $61 million in the bank.

The Sept. 30 donations came in response to five emails asking for donations sent by Mr. Obama in the last four days of the quarter. “I enjoy talking about fundraising deadlines as much as I imagine you enjoy hearing about them. But this Friday’s deadline is important,” one read.

The only rival to get such a response is Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whose mastery of the Internet and one-day fundraising sprints known as “money bombs” were an unprecedented weapon four years ago. Mr. Paul convinced 3,639 supporters to give $652,000 in itemized donations on Aug. 20, his birthday.

In what could be a seismic shift, Mr. Obama’s monetary support from big-money finance, for decades the cash cows of politics, appeared to wane. In its place emerged what for the first time seemed to make up a broad enough sector of the economy to replace them: wealthy, liberal computer programmers and others at technology firms, with a heavy helping of academics at leading colleges, bankrolled the tech-savvy campaign.

Where once would be the names of lawyers and lobbyists, hundreds of thousands of dollars came from employees of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and LinkedIn. Microsoft’s John Frank raised more than a half-million dollars for Mr. Obama in three months alone.

The campaign itself invested heavily in digital strategy, including data analysis and millions in online advertising. For a large organization, records suggest spending that was lean and disciplined.

Mr. Obama’s list of bundlers is significant, in part, because of the sheer amount of money that can be traced to a few, but also because his competitors will release no such list.

Bundlers are often executives, lobbyists or hedge fund managers who collect far more money than they could personally give under campaign finance laws. Mr. Obama has pledged not to accept bundled contributions from lobbyists.

Candidates are not required to report such fundraisers, but Mr. Obama has elected to do so voluntarily.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has refused to disclose his bundlers, except for those who are lobbyists, which is required under law. Five federal lobbyists bundled a half-million dollars for Mr. Romney in the third quarter.

Forty-one volunteer fundraisers have collected more than a half-million dollars each for Mr. Obama this year, up from 27 in the last quarter.

The number of people raising $200,000 to $500,000 doubled to 95. As a group, they raised between $10.8 million and $47 million in addition to what was raised in the prior quarter — underscoring the fact that the minimum $20 million figure for all bundlers is far lower than the actual amount. The actual total isn’t known because there is no ceiling for the top tier of donors.

Eighty-five bundlers live in California; 41 are from New York City; 27 are from Chicago; and 16 are in Washington, D.C.

Among 100 new names, 13 bundled for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic party’s nominee in 2004. Four raised funds for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, according to a Times analysis of records compiled by Public Citizen. Three bundled for then-Sen. John Edwards.