The campaign fundraising efforts of President Obama raised $86 million in the past three months from 500,000 people — but at least $35 million of it can be traced to just 244 well-connected supporters who collected contributions from wealthy friends.
Just 634 donations from people giving $30,000 or more to the Obama Victory Fund comprise $23 million, while the 1,335 donations the fund received from those giving $250 add up to about $336,000, a Washington Times analysis shows.
The campaign has branded itself as a new type of political operation and touted its reliance on a grass-roots network of everyday people writing reasonably sized checks.
“Ninety-eight percent of all donations that came in were $250 or less, and our average donation was about $69,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a video to supporters.
The dramatic reach is, in part, a testament to the power of personal relationships, among the moneyed elite as with the population at large: The mathematics of the ranges collected by the bundlers and the number of large donations given suggest that nearly every maximum donation came after personal contact with one of the 244 emissaries who received credit for shepherding it.
But the list, which was voluntarily disclosed by Mr. Obama and includes 27 people who brought in more than half a million dollars each — at least $13.5 million among them — is made up of many of the same people who have had outsized influence on American politics for years.
While the figures released by Mr. Obama include only names and locations, a Times analysis found 25 that likely bundled contributions for John Kerry in 2004. At least 90 worked as bundlers for Mr. Obama when he was a freshman senator mounting a bid for the presidency in 2008, but others were betting on his opponents: Ten were raising money for Hillary Rodham Clinton and seven bundled for John Edwards.
Federal donor histories of the half of the 244 that could be traced by The Times show that that segment alone, with their immediate families, has personally donated $21 million to U.S. elections in more than 7,800 checks between 2007 and 2010.
Fred Eychaner of media company Newsweb Corp., for example, made 73 federal-level political donations totaling about $700,000 during the 2008 and 2010 elections before joining the ranks of Mr. Obama’s lowest tier of bundlers, those raising between $50,000 and $100,000. Mr. Obama appointed Mr. Eychaner a Kennedy Center trustee in September.
Azita Raji, meanwhile, a retired investment banker from Belvedere, Calif., raised more than half a million dollars for Mr. Obama from associates. Mrs. Raji and family members personally gave $70,000 in the last two election cycles.
Robert Wolf of UBS Americas, who in 2004 bundled about $100,000 for Mr. Kerry, raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for Mr. Obama this cycle. He and family members have given 115 donations totaling some $185,000 in the past two cycles.
The money has made up significant chunks of the wider Democratic machine, with $6.3 million of the personal donations by bundlers identified by The Times going to the Democratic National Committee, $2.4 million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $1.9 million to its House counterpart.
Explore the 244 Obama bundlers, and see Times research on their likely backgrounds and previous bundling activity, on this interactive map. Red dots indicate the largest bundlers. Click on each dot for information. Story continues below.
Spread their wealth
The business leaders often spread their wealth freely, as if hedging their bets to maintain favor with whoever may be in power. In that figure are 118 donations to Republicans totaling $210,000, including $100,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Mr. Obama also collected nearly $170,000 — more than any other candidate raised in 23 states — from Puerto Rico, whose residents cannot vote for president. Mr. Obama traveled to the territory last month in the first official presidential visit to the island in 50 years.
Three bundlers live on the island: Roberto Prats, Andres Guillemard and Andres Lopez.
While the money of a few made up a disproportionate sum of Mr. Obama’s fundraising, it did not come at the expense of broad support on a smaller scale. The residents of 36 states gave more money to Mr. Obama than to any other presidential candidate, The Times analysis of reported donations showed.
The enormous fraction that can be traced to the personal connections and outreach of several dozen individuals — and the disparity between Mr. Messina’s account and an analysis of records filed with the Federal Election Commission — has to do with the way politicians from both parties raise funds when they occupy the White House.
The Obama Victory Fund, the main re-election vehicle, is structured as a joint committee that brings in money under the umbrella of both the official presidential re-election campaign and the DNC. Both share the same goal. Although federal law caps donations to election campaigns at effectively $5,000 per cycle, national parties can accept $30,800 per calendar year.
A joint campaign can collect for both. Large campaign donations are often made in the names of both a husband and a wife — making single-day contributions of $71,600 the most effective way for a wealthy family to help elect a president.
The result is a campaign that retains the intimate, grass-roots feel attached to a name-brand candidate while capturing the major infrastructure of the party — and that presidential surrogates can pick and choose statistics from either the OVF or the official campaign as it suits them.
The only Republican with the campaign bankroll that approaches that of Mr. Obama, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, also relied on a small number of extremely wealthy individuals — without the broad net of small donors to round it out that Mr. Obama enjoys.
More than two-thirds of Mr. Romney’s $18 million haul came from people giving $2,500, the maximum that can be used for the primary election. Only $1 million came from contributions of less than $200.
Mr. Romney relied disproportionately on sparsely populated Utah, where he has Mormon roots ($1.3 million raised), and Florida ($1.5 million), where he campaigned heavily last month, for monetary support. He led 11 states in all, largely Southern and sparsely populated Republican strongholds including Tennessee, Nevada, Missouri and Louisiana. Mr. Romney’s own state of Massachusetts favored Mr. Obama at $1.5 million.
Half a million dollars of Mr. Romney’s haul was collected by five registered lobbyists, disclosures show, including several who bundled money for George W. Bush.
Yet the real money behind a threat to Mr. Obama this election season, however, could come not from a Republican opponent, but from shadowy groups that can accept unlimited contributions under newly relaxed rules.
The Federal Election Commission received notice of formation from a new group of this type, which often are backed by corporations or a few wealthy magnates, last week.
It is called American Citizens of Modest Means.