- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

An increasing number of Democratic fundraisers — alienated by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strong-arm tactics against prospective donors — are raising money for presidential rivals of the former first lady, Democratic campaign strategists say.

The strategists said the exodus is growing as Mrs. Clinton’s campaign applies pressure to uncommitted party donors to join her fundraising team or pledge to sit out the party’s nominating process.

“The Clinton camp has been very tough on contributors. I’ve heard that ‘if you don’t contribute to us, don’t contribute to another campaign.’ I’ve heard that,” said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who just joined the campaign of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and managed Howard Dean’s ill-fated 2004 presidential bid.

Several members of the Democratic fundraising community, which is largely party veterans and business professionals, told The Washington Times of Mrs. Clinton’s fundraising fallout provided they were given anonymity to prevent retribution.

One of the most frequent complaints among longtime party contributors is that no matter how hard they work or how much they raise for Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy, they will never be given special access to her campaign’s high command.

“If you are not part of that original Clinton family, you are never going to be part of her inner circle. What this translates into is: Why invest in her campaign when whatever you do, you will never be part of it?” said a former senior Democratic Party campaign official who is uncommitted in the race.

“I’m hearing this echoed all over the place by Democrats, especially outside of Washington.”

The Clinton campaign yesterday did not respond directly to questions about the complaints.

“People give to our campaign for one reason and one reason only: Because they think Hillary Clinton will be the best president,” said her spokesman, Blake Zeff.

But Democrats said that Clinton campaign methods are driving veteran party fundraisers into rival camps.

“People are peeling off from the Clintons. A friend of mine who has done fundraising for Hillary in the past, but remains uncommitted, told me that her fundraising people said if you don’t want to raise money for us now, will you agree not to raise money for anyone else?” a Democratic fundraiser told The Times.

One of those who decided not to raise money for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is Howard Gutman, a Washington lawyer who raised money for former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner before he withdrew from the Democratic nomination race. He is now raising money for Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, who is in second place in most Democratic presidential polls

“I could raise money from now to eternity and not really be on the [Clinton campaign] radar screen,” Mr. Gutman told Newsweek magazine.

“I don’t think it has to do with any weakness in [Mrs. Clinton],” he said in an interview with The Times, explaining his decision to go with the Obama campaign.

“I just thought that [Obama] offered the best opportunity to bridge the political divide instead of the divisiveness of the left and the right. It’s the right message at the right time, a message of hope that inspires people.”

Other fundraisers for Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards, who is leading in the Iowa caucus polls, said they are being joined by more Democrats since the first-quarter fundraising numbers raised questions about Mrs. Clinton’s vulnerability.

Those numbers not only showed Mr. Obama nearly matching Mrs. Clinton’s $25 million in total contributions in the first three months of this year, but also attracting far more donors — 100,000 to 60,000.

“After those fundraising numbers came out, people are now saying, ‘Wait a minute, she is not inevitable as the party’s nominee,’ ” said a Democratic strategist here. “When you see people who have nothing to lose going with Obama or Edwards, then you know she is going down.”

The latest national Gallup Poll, taken April 13-15, showed Mrs. Clinton losing ground to Mr. Obama who trailed her by five percentage points — 31 percent to 26 percent. Mr. Edwards was in third place with 16 percent.

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