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Sweet: Despite few fundraisers, Sanders scores big donor haul

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WASHINGTON — In the event of a President Bernie Sanders or a President Donald Trump, this we know: They won’t owe ambassadorships to their major donors.

That’s because they don’t have any.

Trump, the billionaire businessman and reality show star who is the Republican favorite in national polls, is mainly self-funded.

Sanders, the Vermont senator, ended 2015 behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. But he already has locked in a remarkable achievement: He raised millions of dollars for his Democratic primary bid without the help of rich backers asking their wealthy friends for donations.

Actually, Sander did barely any fundraising events.

If there were a President Hillary Clinton, perhaps she would put J.B. Pritzker, the Chicago investor — and one of her mega contributors and fundraisers — on a list to be an ambassador.

Or maybe J.B. would follow in the footsteps of his sister, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and be tapped to succeed her. Chicago’s Penny Pritzker made the Obama presidency possible because of her great work as the finance chair of then Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

At the beginning of the new year, the Sanders and Clinton campaigns each released topline information about their 2015 fundraising efforts overall and the fourth quarter tallies.

Both Sanders and Clinton have compelling fundraising stories.

Sanders has an army of small donors, accumulated with almost no investment of his time.

OPINION

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In 2015, Sanders raised $72.8 million for the primary, of which $33.2 million came in the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31. He starts 2016 with $28.4 million cash on hand.

That haul from 2.5 million donors came with basically no professional fundraising operation.

Here’s a stunning fact: In all of 2015, Sanders held only nine fundraisers, his campaign said.

According to CNN, Clinton headlined 174 events. Bill Clinton was the draw at dozens of other funders.

Those few Sanders funders “basically raise enough to cover the venue costs with a little left over,” Sanders spokesman Mike Briggs told me in an email on Sunday.

“. . . We don’t even have a finance director. We do have one super-smart, 24-year-old, Eagle Scout digital director,” said Briggs, a former Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

Clinton has built an army of big and little contributors with an impressive fundraising operation.

In 2015, Clinton raised $112 million for the primary. She starts 2016 with almost $38 million cash-on-hand.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a question during a town hall-style campaign event on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Derry, N.H. | Steven Senne/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a question during a town hall-style campaign event on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Derry, N.H. | Steven Senne/AP

In the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31, Clinton raised $37 million for her primary campaign and $18 million for the Hillary Victory Fund — aimed at bolstering the party for the general election.

The Hillary Victory Fund will funnel money to the Democratic National Committee and 32 Democratic parties in states and Puerto Rico — but Illinois is not one of them.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Pritzker and his wife, Mary Kathryn, have given more than $600,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund. Fred Eychaner, a Chicago business executive who is one of the nation’s biggest Democratic donors, has contributed more than $300,000.

The other side of the Clinton donor coin: In the fourth quarter, 94 percent of donations to Clinton’s main campaign fund were $100 or less, her campaign said.

Chicago has produced five ambassadors in the seven years of the Obama presidency, all-important fundraisers in either the 2012 or 2008 campaigns. Those ambassadors are David Jacobson and Bruce Heyman, Canada; Louis Susman, the United Kingdom; Fay Hartog Levin, the Netherlands; and James Walter “Wally” Brewster, the Dominican Republic.

As did Republican and Democratic presidents before him, Obama felt obliged to reward his major fundraisers with plum ambassadorships.

For all the hope and change candidate Obama promised in the 2008 campaign, what remained the same was the high-dollar fundraising game.

Follow Lynn Sweet on Twitter: @LynnSweet

Tweets by @lynnsweet

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