Obama drift frustrates donors

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Top Democratic donors say they are exasperated by a lack of leadership from the White House on policy and are questioning whether they should throw money into midterm elections they believe won’t change Washington.

In interviews with The Hill, the donors, who have been staunch Obama supporters since 2008, showed a frustration with the constant Beltway gridlock.

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As some look to the promise of a 2016 presidential bid by Hillary Clinton, they express weariness with a White House that continually asks for money but has been unable to move anything in Washington since President Obama’s reelection.

“We’re already seeing that happen now when Democrats do have control of the Senate,” one donor said. “I think a lot of people think, ‘What’s really the point?’ ”

Even if Democrats retain the Senate, there’s a sense in the donor class that Obama and Democrats will make little progress against Republicans.

“There’s a sense of resignation that Republicans are just going to run out the clock on the president no matter what,” the donor said.

One Democratic strategist who has worked closely on fundraising efforts has heard similar rumblings and says it’s a sign that donors are tired of giving.

“There’s definitely some donor fatigue in a lukewarm environment,” the strategist said. “They are tired of giving and giving and they know there’s not much more the president can do.”

Another donor, who has written large checks to the Obama campaign and top Democrats and has rallied others to do the same, said there’s a feeling of neglect by some top donors who feel the White House team keeps hitting them up for money, on the heels of two bruising presidential elections, but does little in return.

The donor pointed to former President Clinton, who understands how to nurture donor relationships and their give-and-take nature. Obama, the donor pointed out, “has been very restrictive on that kind of stuff,” with the exception of rewarding some select donors with ambassadorships.

Team Obama, the donor said, “just [doesn’t] get it ... In terms of energizing the donor base, they have not done that well.”

Many fellow check-writers are looking beyond the midterms to the next presidential election, as excitement around a potential Hillary Clinton run builds, the donors said. A growing number of super-PACs are beginning to rally support around her candidacy.

Nonetheless, both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have had better fundraising numbers than in recent years because of large numbers of small donations, Democratic officials say.

“Democratic donors of all sizes are engaged,” one Democratic Party official said, adding that the Democrats are matching and often beating Republican fundraising numbers.  

And while Obama has seen his lowest approval ratings and is unwanted by some candidates in air-tight races, so far he has had no problem raising money. On Monday night, the president attended a fundraiser for House Democrats, his 22nd of 2014 and his 60th of the current election cycle.

On Thursday, the campaigner in chief will return to his hometown Chicago to attend two more fundraisers. He’ll continue to pick up the fundraising pace as the midterms draw closer.

A White House official would not comment on the fundraising efforts, but people close to the administration have previously signaled concerns about donor fatigue.

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to Obama, took to Twitter in February to urge donors to focus on the 2014 election before they set their sights on 2016.

“With the Senate seriously at risk and the Koch Brothers spending prodigiously, shouldn’t [Democratic] fundraisers be focused on '14 and not '16 races,” Axelrod wrote.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Organizing for Action, the group charged with pushing Obama’s agenda, will reduce its fundraising efforts and winnow down staff to refocus efforts on the midterm elections. As part of the move, the group will no longer ask for high-dollar donations as of the end of May, according to a memo obtained by the AP.

The Democratic strategist said there’s a belief among some in the donor class that if Republicans have control of Congress, that will ultimately help the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 in blaming the entire institution for being obstructionist.

Doug Thornell, a Democratic strategist, disagreed with that notion.

“It’ll help the Democratic nominee in 2016 if the president is strong the last two years of his term,” he said.

Thornell said sitting the 2014 cycle out would only reward Republicans for “creating a such a dysfunctional environment.”

“The single biggest political threat to the Obama presidency is a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans,” he added. “If you’re staying on the sidelines you’re going to increase the chances of that happening. ... Now is not the time to be frustrated or discouraged.”

Even though Democrats have little change of winning back the House, “You have to look at it as a long-term effort,” he said.