Obama's Chicago fundraising gets boost from LGBT community, as volunteers bring in large bundles of donations
Laura Ricketts among fundraisers that include high-powered lawyers, investors and other community leaders
Laura Ricketts, a co-owner and director of the Chicago Cubs, shown here in 2010, is a first-time bundler for the Obama campaign. “I do feel like over the past four to six years, my network of civic, business and political contacts — and contacts in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community — has grown," she said. (Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune / September 9, 2010)
Four of Obama's top fundraisers, who together bundled at least $1.5 million in campaign donations, are prominent members of the city's gay and lesbian community, records show, including first-time bundler Laura Ricketts.
"I didn't know two years ago if I could raise $1 million, and I don't know if I can yet," said Ricketts, a co-owner and director of the Chicago Cubs.
"I'm really hopeful I'll get there," she said. "I do feel like over the past four to six years, my network of civic, business and political contacts — and contacts in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community — has grown. ... That's a big part of it, just networking and meeting more people."
Obama's decision to endorse same-sex marriage in May has proved profitable for his re-election campaign. An NPR analysis of federal campaign data found Obama took in almost $9 million in donations of $200 or more in the three days following his announcement, nearly triple what he got in the previous three-day cycle.
The president's campaign website has a page devoted to "Obama Pride" and LGBT supporters and a list of accomplishments. The Obama online campaign store also features bumper stickers, can coolers and other items touting LGBT for Obama, including a $30 "I'm out for Obama" T-shirt and two variations of $20 baby onesies that say "My two moms/dads support Obama."
The number of Obama bundlers identified by the Center for Responsive Politics as openly gay or lesbian nearly doubled to 27 since the first of the year, according to the latest list of bundler names voluntarily announced by the Obama campaign. Obama's Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, does not disclose bundlers' names, unlike 2008 nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former President George W. Bush.
Ricketts' fundraising for the president provides a strong political counterpoint to her father, Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade. His involvement in a conservative super PAC, which considered running ads linking Obama to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to suspend talks on a taxpayer-subsidized rehab of the Cubs' Wrigley Field.
Ricketts said she served on Obama's 2008 LGBT finance committee and, before that, supported him when he ran for U.S. Senate "in much smaller ways." At a 2009 inaugural event, she said Democratic National Committee treasurer Andrew Tobias, a gay Obama bundler, asked her to become involved in the DNC's LGBT National Leadership Council. It has become the campaign's LGBT fundraising arm.
"The president has dramatically changed the way our government treats LGBT citizens in our country," Ricketts said. "We are seen for who we are, our rights are recognized. We're treated completely differently (than four years ago) and on a much more equal basis. So it has been very easy for me to continue to support him."
Ricketts had hit the top range of bundling for Obama — raising $500,000 or more — in the first three months of the year. Prominent LGBT bundler Fred Eychaner, who owns Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., also hit the top level during the same time period, as did James (Wally) Brewster and Bob Satawake of Chicago. Like Ricketts, Satawake and Brewster, who are partners, are co-chairs of the campaign's LGBT fundraising effort, according to the Windy City Times. Satawake did not respond to a request for an interview.
Nationwide, Obama's 638 bundlers this year already have doubled the results of his 2008 bundlers, raising at least $143 million through June this election season compared with 560 bundlers who raised at least $76 million throughout the entire contest four years ago.
In Illinois, 86 bundlers combined to raise $15.3 million for Obama for the entire 2008 campaign. This season, 57 Illinois bundlers have raised almost $9 million for the president, though several money-raising events lie ahead, including three fundraisers at a hometown celebration of Obama's 51st birthday Aug. 12.
Two 2008 bundlers — investment banker Steven Koch and philanthropist Charles Lewis — contacted by the Tribune for this story said that the campaign had erred in not listing them as bundlers for 2012.
"I don't know what the records show," Lewis, a former investment banker who now runs his family foundation, said in an email, estimating that he had bundled between $100,000 and $200,000. "More importantly, any implication that I am any less enthusiastic about Mr. Obama this time than I was last time is patently false."
Many of the same faces are back as bundlers for Team Obama Part 2, though several who work in the administration are not part of the mix. While Obama faced a primary contest in 2008, he is now benefiting from supporters of his past challenger, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Bill Clinton.
Still, the work of bundlers is more pressure-packed this time by trying to raise dollars to allow the campaign to compete against so-called super political action committees, many backed by Republicans.
Kevin Conlon, who bundled for Howard Dean in 2004, Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Obama in 2012, called himself a "single and doubles hitter" because he says he does not raise money from the "big-dollar folks," though he also is a $500,000-plus fundraiser.
"I've sold tickets (to an Obama fundraiser) for as little as $44," said Conlon, president of Conlon Public Strategies. "I really reach out to people at the $500 level, lower-dollar events."