About half of the top fundraisers from President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign are sitting out the Democratic primary this year, with some saying they’ll stay neutral until the general election. Others are unenthused by Hillary Clinton’s bid, and some are still hoping an alternative such as Vice President Joseph R. Biden may emerge.
Of Mr. Obama’s top 30 “bundlers” — individuals who help raise campaign money in large chunks through their networks of friends and acquaintances — seven have signed up to become “Hillblazers,” a term Mrs. Clinton uses for those who help bring in $100,000 or more in donations to her campaign.
Three of the 30 Obama donors are contributing to Mrs. Clinton’s quest for the White House in other ways.
Steve and Allison Spinner have signed on as finance co-chairs to Mrs. Clinton’s Ready for Hillary political action committee, Jeffrey Katzenberg has given $1 million to Mrs. Clinton’s Priorities USA political action committee, and Joseph Falk is part of Mrs. Clinton’s Florida campaign team.
Of the other top 20 Obama bundlers, some have hosted fundraisers for Mrs. Clinton at their homes or given small donations, but none has attempted to raise the millions they did for Mr. Obama. As many as 14 have decided to sit out the primary cycle entirely, according to public records and interviews.
All Obama fundraisers interviewed on and off the record by The Times said a Democrat is better than a Republican in office. But they gave a number of reasons for why they haven’t stepped forward this year.
Bob Finnell, a lawyer from Rome, Georgia, who gave the maximum amount allotted to Mr. Obama’s 2008 and 2012 contests, said this cycle, donors and fundraisers alike are in a “conundrum” of just not being that excited about the two horses they have in the race.
“You meet some people, and they have all the tools, and if you’ve been in this game long enough, you can pick it out immediately: the brains, the temperament, the personality, the ‘it’ factor to be president. I knew Obama had it the first time I met him when he was running for his Senate seat,” said Mr. Finnell. “I don’t see that in Hillary. It’s not natural with her.”
And although Mr. Sanders’ sincerity, message and conviction inspires Mr. Finnell, he said flatly, “Do I think he can go all the way? No.”
Mr. Finnell has decided to remain on the sidelines this election cycle, although he’s been asked to raise funds by both Mr. Sanders’ and Mrs. Clinton’s team.
Bill Bartmann, a prominent Democratic donor, is also concerned about the prospect of Mr. Sanders’ chances in the general election if he should win the nomination, and wrote in an email to dozens of those close to Mr. Biden last week urging them to stay uncommitted this cycle given the possibility of a late entrance into the race.
“We cannot afford to lose the White House,” Mr. Bartmann wrote in the email, which was first reported by Reuters and confirmed by The Washington Times.
Many donors who received the email shared the same sentiments.
“My sitting on the sidelines has a lot to do with my disappointment that the vice president decided not to get in the race,” Patrick Baskette, one of the recipients of Mr. Bartmann’s email, told Reuters. Mr. Baskette served as a special assistant to Mr. Biden during his time as senator.
Mr. Biden said in October he wouldn’t be joining the race.
The Times conducted its bundler analysis from fundraising records released by Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, Federal Election Commission filings and the Center for Responsive Politics. The Times excluded from its top 30 analysis bundlers who have since been appointed to ambassadorships or hold public office.
Even without the help of all big Obama bundlers, Mrs. Clinton has built a strong financial operation. She raised $115.4 million last year, compared to the $103.8 million Mr. Obama raised in 2007.
But a lack of enthusiasm dogs her campaign.
“With Obama there was more of a grass-roots feeling behind it, like we were the underdogs hustling for money to bring about change,” said one bundler, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “This time around it just doesn’t feel that way. Hillary has her people, and they’ve served her well. If she looks like she needs help down the road, I’m sure many more [donors] will jump in to help.”
Mr. Obama’s top bundler in the 2012 election cycle, Andrew Tobias, has decided to stay neutral in this year’s primary, though he’s contributed $5,000 to the “Ready for Hillary” political action committee.
Mr. Tobias wrote on his blog that although he finds Mr. Obama more inspiring than Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat is better in the White House than a Republican any day.
“I voted for Obama, ultimately,” Mr. Tobias said of his 2008 Democratic vote in a blog posting last August. “I thought he was the more inspiring leader of the two. But I still think that Hillary has what it takes to be a great president, easily.
“As much as it matters which of our folks gets the nod, it matters 100 times more which party’s candidate wins the general election,” he wrote.
Mr. Tobias declined several requests for interviews by The Times.
Marilynn Duker, president of a Baltimore residential development and property management, and who donated in Democratic presidential contests before, said she’s sitting out this cycle because she feels her money is better spent on local elections.
“Ms. Duker will not be donating this presidential cycle, but is looking into investing into a number of local races, those who could really could use her help,” Ms. Duker’s spokeswoman told The Times.
Spencer Overton, who raised about $1.2 million for Mr. Obama in 2012, placing him in the top 30 bundlers, said he’s building a think tank this year, and has decided not to raise money for any political candidates in 2016.
David Friedman, who brought in $2.3 million for the Obama campaign over the course of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, making him a top bundler, wrote in an email that he has made the conscious decision not to get back into fundraising this cycle and that “that chapter of my life is closed,” declining to elaborate further.
Ken Solomon, the chief executive of the Tennis Channel who raised about $4.6 million for Mr. Obama over two presidential cycles, has given equal amounts to Mrs. Clinton, to her chief competitor, Sen. Bernard Sanders, and to former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley campaign’s before he exited the race.
Instead of picking a candidate, Mr. Solomon, along with Naomi Aberly, a Texan, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for President Obama — making her a top 30 bundler — have joined the DNC in leadership positions and to help the organization ramp up its struggling fundraising ahead of the general election.
• Kelly Riddell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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