Carrie Budoff Brown
Barack Obama’s major fundraisers are picking up a big chunk of his transition tab, as at least 38 campaign bundlers contributed $190,000 of the nearly $1.17 million raised through mid-November.
The donor list released Monday shows that members of Obama’s national finance committee are still cracking open their wallets, even after raising at least $50,000 – and sometimes more than $500,000 – for a presidential campaign that shattered fundraising records.
The list includes familiar names in Obama money circles such as Boston financier Alan Solomont, CEO John Rogers of Chicago’s Ariel Investments, and James and Paula Crown of Chicago’s Henry Crown and Co.
Other notables included Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who has advised Obama on economic issues and contributed $5,000. “Star Wars” creator George Lucas also kicked in that amount.
In fact, 56 percent of the total raised came from 131 individuals who gave $5,000 each, the maximum allowed by law.
Hundreds of small donors also weighed in – although those who wrote checks of $200 or less accounted for only 8 percent of the total contributions.
Meredith McGehee, policy director at the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Center, praised Obama for pledging to disclose the donors monthly, more often than required by law.
“But the notion that you have a president-elect, and he is still going out and soliciting money is a problem,” McGehee said. “If the public money is not sufficient, it should be increased. He should be out of that business at this point.”
As for the bundlers, she said, “These are people who have already invested. . . They obviously had the means and it is not a surprise that they would continue their support.”
In the first 11 days following the Nov. 4 election, Obama brought in $1,170,937 from 1,776 donors to pay for transition costs. Transition chief John Podesta estimated last month that the operation would need $12 million - a higher pricetag than for the transitions of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - including $6.7 million drawn from private donations and $5.3 million in taxpayer dollars.
President George W. Bush raised more than $3 million in private donations, the bulk of which came from his big fundraisers, and received another $5.3 million in federal money. For the 1992-93 transition, President Bill Clinton raised $5.3 million in private donations to supplement $3.5 million from the government, according to news reports at the time.
Obama’s transition can accept money from any “person, organization or other entity,” according to the law. But Obama is seeking donations only from individuals and refusing money from corporations, labor unions, political action committees, federal lobbyists and foreign entities. The transition hired fundraising staff to make phone calls, and sent out one email solicitation, according to transition sources.
The pace of fundraising, however, is nowhere near the levels seen during the campaign, when Obama would take in about $1 million a day, said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“It is probably a harder sell to get people to fund a bureaucratic setup,” Ritsch said. “This is a key step toward assuming control of government but it is not the sexiest of objectives for a political contributor.”
All told, seven Google employees made $14,200 in contributions, including $2,500 from Vinton Cerf, Google’s “chief Internet evangelist” who is often cited as one of the fathers of the Internet.
He has been mentioned as a contender for a new post in the Obama administration as chief technology officer.
Eric Mindich, the CEO of Eton Park Capital Management who made $290 million in 2007, according to hedge fund magazine Alpha, also donated the maximum amount to the transition.
And then there was Doug Berman, a producer of NPR’s Car Talk, who contributed $500 and listed his employer as “Dewey, Cheetam & Howe,” a fictional law firm name used by comics through the years. "Dewey, Cheetam & Howe" is apparently also the name for the corporation under which Car Talk is organized