The all-consuming hunt for donors has led President Barack Obama’s campaign to England. And France. And China.
Obama is tapping the network of American citizens living outside the 50 states more than any other presidential campaign has before, with more than a dozen bundlers who have pledged to raise as much as $4.5 million.
The president’s overseas power centers include London, where high-powered execs like Warner Bros. Josh Berger and Anthony Gardner of Palamon Capital Partners have promised to deliver as much as $500,000 each to the campaign, and Shanghai, where businessman and Technology for Obama co-Chairman Robert Roche has committed to bringing in more than $500,000.
It’s all legal — the donors are American citizens who pay U.S. taxes — and the net income to the campaigns is paltry compared the hundreds of millions of dollars raised stateside. Presidential campaigns have long taken in campaign donations from expats and people living in U.S. territories, but Obama’s campaign is focusing on those donations more than ever.
In 2008, Obama reported having seven bundlers outside the 50 states committed to raising as much as $2.3 million, with the dough rolling in at events like a George Clooney-headlined fundraiser in Geneva. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took in $610,000. And in 2004, presidential campaigns took in just under $910,000 total from Americans living abroad.
“You’ve got to do it because it’s money you need, but it’s the same as a fundraiser in a small town in America,” said Jack Oliver, who helped create President George W. Bush’s fundraising strategy in 2000 and 2004, of holding fundraisers abroad. “It’s not a game changer in resources, but it is money you don’t want [to] leave on the table.”
As of early June Obama had received more than $455,000 in political contributions outside the 50 states this cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission records, and a campaign official told POLITICO that there could be even more U.S. bundlers from abroad before the November election.
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, had received just less than $144,000 in campaign contributions outside the 50 states, according to FEC records. Several supporters said he’s expected to attend a fundraiser in London when he travels there for the Olympics this summer.
The Romney campaign doesn’t publicly list its bundlers and did not respond to questions regarding his fundraising efforts abroad.
Last July, the former Massachusetts governor attended a $2,500-per-person fundraiser in London hosted by high-powered politicos like hedge fund manager Louis Bacon and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson. Dwight Poler, an executive with Bain Capital, the firm Romney previously worked for, and Raj Bhattacharyya, managing director at Deutsche Bank, also co-hosted the event.
Obama hasn’t attended the foreign fundraisers personally, but campaign and senior White House officials will continue to build up their frequent flier miles before Election Day.
“He has a world perspective that I think is important in today’s interconnected age to ensure the U.S. stays in the lead,” said Vicki Hansen, the Luxembourg-based international vice chairwoman for Democrats Abroad, an arm of the Democratic Party. “We can’t work in isolation or with blinkers on.”
Drinks and canapés were on the menu for an Obama campaign event June 11 in Zurich’s Old Town with former deputy White House Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen — suggested donation $500 per person, or a “special rate” of $150 for young professionals 30 and under.
“Mona is an extraordinarily accomplished and engaging woman, who will speak about her experience as one of the President’s closest and most trusted advisers, and share her insights into the current state of the re-election campaign,” according to a DNC invite posted on the Democrats Abroad site.
Valerie Jarrett’s senior aide, Michael Strautmanis, is scheduled to attend a July 4 fundraiser in Paris, according to a Paris Professionals for Obama Facebook page. Strautmanis is touted on the site as a “close personal friend of the President and First Lady, and currently Deputy Assistant and Counselor for Strategic Engagement to the Senior Advisor!”
“If you’re an American professional in Paris and you’d love to help Obama win in 2012, this might be your chance,” the Facebook post said.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina was the main guest at fundraisers last October in Geneva and at the London home of American actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. Obama opinion research director David Simas visited the famous House of Glass on Paris’ Left Bank for a cocktail reception in late March with suggested contributions of $500-$1,500. And Obama campaign attorney and former White House general counsel Bob Bauer attended a Geneva fundraiser with $100-$250 suggested donations and a $35,800 maximum contribution limit.
Democrats Abroad is also working to get Obama reelected with a voter registration drive that highlights the narrow victory margins — well within the number of overseas voters — for Democratic Sens. Al Franken, Mark Begich and Jon Tester. The group is on a 27-city, 13-country bus tour through mid-July to register voters, with stops in Rome, Barcelona and Berlin.
Americans living in Paris also hosted a Gershwin tribute concert earlier this month, and London-based ex-pats organized a “Baroque Obama” musical fundraiser in April.
Of course there are limits: Democrats Abroad considered holding a fundraiser last month in conjunction with the Cannes Film Festival but decided against it because of the negative optics.
Americans who can’t even vote in the general election also are filling Obama’s coffers.
Puerto Rico lawyer Andres Lopez has signed on to deliver more than $500,000 in campaign cash, for example.
Obama also is doing well in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where attorney Marjorie Roberts is a national finance committee member and bundler who has committed to raise $200,000-$500,000.
“I’d like to see President Obama succeed,” said Douglas Capdeville, an attorney and New Jersey native who has been living in the Virgin Islands since the 1950s. “We follow him. We are very proud of him. We truly believe he means very well. It’s just the acrimony in the Congress. He can’t get his programs and proposals passed.”
Capdeville wrote Obama a $2,500 check last September; he also gave $2,300 in 2008.
Virgin Island Democrats aren’t expecting Obama to make a trip this cycle; he did visit in 2007 during the Democratic primaries and again for vacation in 2008. But local organizers are hoping to get a surrogate visit timed with any stops in Puerto Rico. Locals who want an up-close look at Obama are also encouraged to make the two-hour flight to attend fundraisers when the president and his team are in South Florida or in East Coast cities.
Republicans Abroad Executive Director Cynthia Dillon said GOPers abroad are attuned to what’s happening in the states and they will be active, especially at the polls this fall. The group, which doesn’t raise money, is focused on registering voters abroad.
“I think Americans living overseas, everybody, is very concerned about where we are heading,” Dillon said. “It has a ripple effect. People are worried, even if they are there for a long time. They still have relatives here or they still send their kids to school [in the U.S.].”