Clinton leads Dem presidential pack in winning Kerry’s top ’04 fundraisers

Presidential contender Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has the most backing so far from the fundraisers behind the Democrats’ 2004 White House nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). Thirty-eight individuals who bundled checks for Kerry’s campaign are raising money for the New York senator, far outweighing her closest rivals.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), despite being Kerry’s running mate, has not recruited many of the 2004 fundraisers. Thirteen people who helped find funds then have signed on to the Edwards campaign — the lowest figure among the top tier of Democratic candidates.

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“We are always working to recruit new fundraisers and continue to expand Sen. Edwards’s growing base of support,” said Kate Bedingfield, an Edwards campaign spokeswoman, noting the former senator doubled his 2004 first-quarter fundraising and has seen strong support from rural Southern areas. “We feel very good about where we are right now.”

Bundlers are vital cogs in the campaign machine. Fundraisers outside the typical campaign hierarchy help find new sources of money and keep pressure on old donors to continue signing checks.

“Contribution limits indisputably place a premium on contributors and supporters who are able to raise money from other individuals,” said Jan Baran, a partner at Wiley Rein LLP. “The disappearance of the fat cat contributor coincides with the appearance of the well-connected fundraiser.”

This information comes from an analysis of bundler lists provided by the Democratic campaigns and archived data for the 2004 Kerry campaign that is maintained by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

“Of the mess that Bush has created, we will really need someone who can come in and govern. [Hillary Clinton] can do that right away,” said John Merrigan, a partner at DLA Piper. Merrigan was Kerry’s Mid-Atlantic finance chairman and is now fundraising for Clinton.

“Sometimes, it is just their cycle,” said Merrigan. “I felt it with Clinton in ’91 and with Kerry in ’04, and I can feel it with her this cycle.”

Campaigns representatives said they were pleased with bringing in Kerry bundlers but are reaching out to more donors as well.

“We’re gratified by the support of former Kerry supporters and are working hard to make the case to others,” said Blake Zeff, a Clinton campaign spokesman.

“We are honored to have the support of many who supported John Kerry’s bid, but this campaign is also about bringing new people into the process and embracing the thousands across the country who have given $25, $50 and even smaller amounts,” said Jen Psaki, a campaign spokeswoman for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Obama has signed on 24 of the Massachusetts senator’s bundlers. Some of them play a critical role in his campaign, such as Penny Pritzker, who is Obama’s national finance chairwoman.

“Everybody knows Hillary Clinton. Everybody knows John Edwards. But not everybody knows Obama. There is a whole untapped network of supporters,” said Jeremy Alters, a partner at Ratzan & Alters who is fundraising for Obama.

Alters was a Kerry bundler early on in the 2004 campaign. The Miami lawyer said it “was an easy decision for me after I met him” to support Obama in 2008.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of Kerry bundlers, numbering more than 450, have stayed on the sidelines.

“Many are going through their own struggle on deciding whom to support. Considering how they stepped up last time and fell short on electing their candidate, it makes it tougher to step up to the plate again,” said Kenneth Gross, a partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom.

For the 2004 primaries, the Kerry campaign designated individuals who raised more than $100,000 as “vice chairs,” while those who raised more than $50,000 were “co-chairs.”

“This is the kind of the business philanthropy model that was taken over from the Bush campaign that his donors were familiar with,” said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute. “In order to get these people this early, they had to be cultivated for some time.”

“[Obama] got to me early. It was a very good recruitment effort,” said Jeh Johnson, a partner at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. Johnson was a top fundraiser and a special counsel for the Kerry campaign.

After bumping into Johnson at several Democratic fundraisers in 2006, Obama called him at home the day before Thanksgiving last year and asked if he could stay neutral until the Illinois senator made a decision on whether to run for president.

“I said, ‘If you run, I am with you,’” Johnson recalled.

Each of the Democratic campaigns has structured its finance team differently. Clinton’s “Hillraisers” must raise a minimum of $25,000, while the 84 bundlers disclosed by her campaign so far have raised more than $100,000. For Obama, roughly 130 bundlers are asked to help bring in at least $50,000. Edwards’s 431 “solicitors” have no required fiscal commitment, but they raise as much as they can.

It is still early in the 2008 presidential campaign. Both Alters and Merrigan predict that more Kerry fundraisers will align with their particular candidate.

“I expect the [24] number will grow over the next several months, that you will see that they will go to Obama,” said Alters.
“I think [Clinton] is going to be steady all the way through and as that occurs, we will attract even more people onto our side,” said Merrigan.