A Busy Obama Finds Time for Fundraisers

(CBS)
President Obama is headlining a pair of fundraisers Friday: One for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and the other for Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd. Both Democrats are preparing for tough reelection campaigns – though it's worth noting that their actual elections won't be taking place for another year.

Earlier this week, the president spoke at fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee and for Congressional candidate Bill Owens. He's also headlining events designed to create buzz and donations for candidates in tough battles, including one this week for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and another next week for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds.

To date, the president has done 23 fund-raising events since taking office, according to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. He has helped generate more than $24 million for the DNC and for specific candidates – and that's not including the figures from events where organizers declined to reveal how much money was raised.

If that seems like a lot of fundraisers for a president with an ambitious agenda and less than a year in office, that's because it is – at least compared to his predecessor. In President Bush's first year in office, Knoller reports, Mr. Bush did only six fund-raisers.

Yet Mr. Bush was able to generate substantially more money than Mr. Obama: he brought in more than $48 million from the six events, more than the current president has raised in nearly four times as many appearances.

At Thursday's briefing, White House press secretary offered an explanation for why the president has done so many more fundraisers than his predecessor.

"I'd remind you that campaign finance rules that were in place in 2001 allowed someone to write a check for an unlimited amount of money to a political party," Gibbs said. "Many did to both parties. So this president doesn't accept money from PACs, doesn't -- or doesn't accept money from PACs or lobbyists and doesn't allow lobbyists to give at fundraisers that he's at as well."

Gibbs is making two different points here. The first is that the rules have changed: President Bush's first year in office came before the 2002 passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, which, among other things, did away with unlimited so-called "soft money" contributions. Under McCain-Feingold, parties can now accept a maximum of $28,500 per year from individuals and nothing from corporations or labor unions.

So while Mr. Bush could generate an unlimited amount of money for his party from each contributor during his first-year in office, Mr. Obama can't – something that has seriously limited how much money he could bring in at each event.

The other point Gibbs is making is that Mr. Obama is operating within his self-imposed rule against taking money from lobbyists or political action committees. It should be noted, however, that PACs still donate to Mr. Obama's party and to individual candidates, and that media outlets have questioned the president's self-proclaimed separation from lobbyist money.

Gibbs' claim that the president "doesn't allow lobbyists to give at fundraisers that he's at" isn't being taken at face value by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which on Friday called on the White House and Chris Dodd to release the names of the people attending the president's fundraiser for Dodd.

"If there are truly no lobbyists in attendance tonight then it should be simple for the White House and Dodd's campaign to prove as much by simply sharing their guest list with voters," said NRSC spokeswoman Amber Wilkerson Marchand.

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