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Money Chooses Sides

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Obama speaks at the Gluckstern fund-raiser.  

Other Obama bundlers simply found the prospect of plumping for Clinton too depressing to bear. “Hillary has the same problem that Gore and Kerry had,” says one. “There are people who believe passionately in her, but a lot have reservations about her electability. I can raise a lot of money for Barack because people are enthusiastic about him. But if I go out and raise money for Hillary, it’s like I’m taxing my friends.”

One unsurprising aspect of Obama’s New York fund-raising network was its ebony hue: the presence of high-profile black bundlers, such as publisher Earl Graves and music executive Andre Harrell. But the most striking element of its composition wasn’t racial but generational: Unlike the Clinton side, which was dominated by folks in their fifties, the Obamans were mostly in their forties. “One thing we recognized early on,” says David Axelrod, the campaign’s chief strategist, “was that there is a substrata of people who in past campaigns weren’t allowed to sit at the adult table but who all of a sudden were quite formidable.”

Many of Obama’s baby bundlers cut their teeth in Bill Clinton’s administration. Mathis and Froman both worked in the Treasury Department, while Rubin, son of Bob, had been a staffer at the Federal Communications Commission. There was also Josh Steiner, another Treasury hand and now a partner of Steve Rattner’s at the Quadrangle Group. And others had no Clintonian association, but were emerging fund-raising powerhouses, such as former Goldman Sachs golden boy Eric Mindich.

At the heart of the next-gen cadre were Froman and Mathis, both law-school classmates of Obama’s. Together, they recognized that, whereas the Clinton fund-raising corps represented the financial elite tossed up by the LBO and M&A booms of the eighties, they were in a position to mine the vein of freshly minted money spawned by the hedge-fund and private- equity eruptions of the new millennium. The players behind those booms had no loyalties, and owed no debts, to the Clinton dynasty. They were looking for a candidate to call their own.

“In Barack’s speech in Selma [earlier this year],” a baby bundler says, “he talked about the Moses generation and the Joshua generation in the civil-rights movement. It’s sorta the same story here.” He continues, “If we all lined up for Hillary, we wouldn’t have even gotten into the anteroom, let alone had seats at the table—there’s no more room. It would’ve been, ‘You have an idea? Send us an e-mail and we’ll have someone get back to you. Oh, and don’t forget to send those checks.’ But that’s not how it is with Barack. We’re already at the table.”

Then there was Julius Genachowski, who for years was Barry Diller’s go-to guy at InterActiveCorp. Genachowski connected Obama to another pool of money: technology and media. Co-hosting fund-raisers in New York and Washington (with former FCC chairs Reed Hundt and Bill Kennard), he helped raise more than $600,000. And he focused on Obama’s Internet operations, persuading the campaign to hire both a private-sector tech wizard and one from the political world. Today, Obama’s Web presence is best in show—a crucial asset in the dollar derby.

By early March, when Obama hit New York on a fund-raising swing, the sense of momentum was palpable. On a Monday night, Obama crammed in a quartet of parties: two hosted by Wolf, one by Edgar Bronfman Jr., one at the Park Avenue home of music impresario Antonio “LA” Reid. “We had Beyoncé and Patricia Duff, Jay-Z and Jamie Rubin, Jermaine Dupri and Jonathan Soros,” Mathis says about the Reid affair. “We raised north of $350,000 in two hours. And that’s when it became crystal clear to all of us: We can raise this money.”

For all the campaigns, March ended in a flurry. A story in the Daily News provoked spasms of fear and trembling for the Obama and Edwards people: Hillary Clinton had apparently raised $10 million in one week. But there were reasons to wonder if the Clinton people were getting twitchy, too: In the last six weeks of the quarter, the campaign had dispatched Bill Clinton to a startling sixteen fund-raisers. Inside the campaign, there were no worries about their final number—it would be gargantuan. But Team Clinton was hearing “rumbles,” McAuliffe told me later, about an Obama surge. “I probably made 1,500 calls this quarter,” McAuliffe noted. “And there’s not a donor I called that Obama didn’t call three, four, five times. So I knew he was working hard. I knew he was doing well on the Internet. And I knew someone was going to capture this antiwar stuff like Howard Dean did.”

The antiwar stuff was also fueling Edwards’s fund-raising efforts. The former North Carolina senator was expected by no one to come close to matching his rivals’ tallies—especially in New York, where his populism made him less palatable to many Wall Street donors. Still, on the last day of the quarter, when I visited Brian Mixer, Edwards’s New York finance director, in his office near Union Square, Mixer was serene. “We’re going to more than double what we did in primary money in New York in the first quarter of 2003,” Mixer said with evident satisfaction. “We raised a million then—and we’ll do $2.5 million this time.”


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