Obama’s fund-raising surrogates: White House and campaign officials, mayors, governors and athletes

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WASHINGTON — Mayor Rahm Emanuel headlines three Obama re-election fund-raisers in New York on Thursday, including one that is part of a new “speakers series” featuring present and former Obama White House officials such as Valerie Jarrett, David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod.

The series was developed by Obama’s fund-raising team to market to donors and bundlers — people who tap into their personal networks to raise money for a candidate — who may not be at the elite levels and therefore cannot get to intimate $35,000 events with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle or Vice President Joe Biden. Since the Obama 2012 re-election campaign launched in April, Obama has been the draw at 31 events; Michelle Obama, nine, and Biden, five.


This is a longer version of a story appearing in the Wednesday print Sun-Times.


Obama, his wife and Biden can cover only so much ground, and organizing high-profile surrogates for a speakers series is thought by the campaign to be a better package to sell to donors and fund-raisers rather than marketing single events.

When it is up and running–the speakers series participant list is still in formation–the campaign surrogate fund-raising effort will also include city and state elected officials such as mayors and governors, as well as athletes. It will reach into areas that would likely never have the fund-raising juice to attract the president, Mrs. Obama or Biden.

For example, on the drawing board now are a series of surrogate events across the nation pegged to Obama’s 50th birthday on Aug. 4.

I asked the White House about the propriety and rules relating to featuring administration figures at fund-raisers — because access to officials is always an issue — and was told by a spokesman, Eric Schultz: “As has been the consistent practice for prior administrations, officials in their private time can and do engage in political work on behalf of the president. Administration officials are also permitted to speak at, attend and be the featured guest at political events, including fund-raisers, but they cannot, and do not, personally solicit contributions.”

The cost of an “annual membership” in the speakers series is $5,000 — on Thursday in New York, that would include lunch with Emanuel and a “monthly series events with various speakers” for a year. An individual event is priced at $1,000.

The pitch on the invite for Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff: “The Obama Speaker Series is an opportunity to hear locally from your leaders. These sessions will occur on a regular basis and will be limited in size. All speakers are subject to availability and scheduling. We cannot guarantee participation for any specific speaker.”

Twenty-one names of potential speakers were listed on the invitation, including senior White House advisors Jarrett and Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, and other White House personnel including Jon Carson, director of the Office of Public Engagement (who managed Tammy Duckworth’s 2006 Illinois House campaign); Stephanie Cutter and Pete Rouse, top advisers; Alyssa Mastromonaco and Nancy-Ann DeParle, deputy chiefs of staff, and Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff.

The former staffers on the series list include Axelrod, Obama’s top campaign strategist; 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina; deputy manager Julianna Smoot, who oversees fund-raising and is a former White House social secretary; Gibbs, the former press secretary; Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart, campaign field organizers; Joe Rospars, the campaign’s chief digital strategist, and David Simas, who worked with Axelrod at the White House and now coordinates polling and messaging research at the campaign.

Obama canceled a New York fund-raiser at the home of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein planned for Tuesday night because of the stalled deficit reduction talks. The next mega Obama fund-raising event is Aug. 3 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, to mark Obama’s 50th birthday on Aug. 4. (This will be postponed if there is no budget deal.) Michelle Obama hits Park City, Utah, and Aspen, Colo., on July 26 on a major-donor fund-raising day trip.

UPDATE: I bet cabinet members will hit the surrogate trail, especially Education Secretary Arne Duncan–with education a policy topic much in demand by backers. Before the 2010 mid-term elections a number of administration officials were on the trail for the Democratic National Committee’s Obama for America operation, including Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius and Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk. END UPDATE

Obama “speakers series” so far, according to the Emanuel invite:

David Axelrod

Jeremy Bird

Carol Browner

Jon Carson

Stephanie Cutter

Nancy-Ann Deparle

Patrick Gaspard

Robert Gibbs

Valerie Jarrett

Alyssa Mastromonaco

Jim Messina

David Plouffe

Joe Rospars

Pete Rouse

David Simas

Julianna Smoot

Mitch Stewart

Nancy Sutley

Mona Sutphen

Tina Tchen

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

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