Sweet column: ’08 rivals dash for campaign cash. A look at the Obama fundraising operation.

SHARE Sweet column: ’08 rivals dash for campaign cash. A look at the Obama fundraising operation.
SHARE Sweet column: ’08 rivals dash for campaign cash. A look at the Obama fundraising operation.

The e-mail fund-raising appeal on behalf of the John Edwards presidential campaign sent out Wednesday could not be more blunt:

“As you probably know,” writes former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.), an Edwards senior adviser, “this Saturday at midnight marks the first major fund-raising deadline of this campaign — which means we have less than 96 hours to show that our campaign has the support and momentum we need to put our agenda in front of voters nationwide. This first test couldn’t be more important.”

The test Bonior refers to is the “money primary,” a political yardstick by which Democrats and Republicans running in the 2008 White House contests will be measured. The first quarter ends Saturday, with the results made public April 15.

The Edwards camp knows that the former North Carolina senator will have a tough time staying in the top tier of Democratic contenders — with Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — if his first-quarter fund-raising totals are anemic.

That’s why Bonior made this plea in his letter. “…I know this campaign can really transform America — it’s already begun. But to keep our momentum going, we’ve got to have a strong showing for this Saturday’s fund-raising deadline. The press and the pundits will look at our fund-raising numbers at the end of this week and ask: ‘Does the John Edwards campaign have what it takes to go the distance?'”

Obama basically had to build a national fund-raising organization from scratch. Since he launched his campaign Feb. 10, Obama will have headlined fund-raising events in at least 23 cities, including Chicago and Washington. Some cities with deep Democratic pockets he visited twice this quarter — San Francisco, Boston and New York. Add to that countless hours on the phone talking to donors with extensive fund-raising networks who expect to get a pitch from the candidate himself. When in Washington, Obama goes to a storefront on Capitol Hill to make calls — once the office of his Senate political action committee, named HOPEFUND, now converted to house presidential campaign functions.

Clinton had far more of an infrastructure in place by the time she announced her bid, with the foundations the fund-raising structures created for former President Bill Clinton, who has been a formidable surrogate in hitting the phones and headlining fund-raisers on her behalf. Clinton has visited 21 cities this first quarter, including Washington and New York. She is, I am told, more comfortable in making the “thank-you” calls to donors and spends considerable time on that end — rather than the “ask” itself.

Though Clinton had a running start, Obama put together an impressive fund-raising organization, starting with his national fund-raising chairman, Penny Pritzker, from one of the city’s most monied clans. The deputy national finance chair is Chicago attorney David Jacobson.

Obama’s national finance director, Julianna Smoot, joined the campaign after raising millions for the Democratic Senate political operation for the 2006 contests. Her deputy, Ami Copeland, knows where the money is in Florida, coming to Obama’s campaign after raising millions for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Between the two heads of Obama’s professional fund-raising staff, they are plugged in to every Democratic high-donor network in the country.

Obama’s campaign, headquartered in Chicago, has also been doing the obvious — making sure that it is maximizing the output from Obama’s hometown. Toward that end, the campaign tapped a member of one of Chicago’s wealthiest families, James Crown, the president of Henry Crown and Co., to be the co-chairman of the Illinois Finance Committee. The other Illinois co-chairman is John Rogers, the founder and CEO of Ariel Capital Management Inc. Jordan Kaplan, the fund-raising professional who worked for HOPEFUND, has the Illinois account.

Added to all of this is the money the candidates will raise over the Internet. Clinton has sent e-mail appeals from her husband, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and, on Wednesday, from former Rep. Geraldine Ferrraro (D-N.Y.), who was the first female vice presidential nominee from a major party when Walter Mondale tapped her as his running mate 23 years ago.

I’m not going to speculate who is raising what. We’ll know the numbers soon enough. Clinton does not want people to think that she has all the money she needs. That’s why Ferraro added this P.S. to her letter: “Don’t believe it when you read Hillary doesn’t need your contribution — trust me, she does.”

There’s never going to be enough, the way things are now — especially with the prospects of what will amount to an expensive national primary next Feb. 5. That’s why Obama is willing to voluntarily adhere to public campaign financing limits if he is the nominee — if the GOP nominee would make the same pledge. Obama got a ruling from the Federal Election Commission to let a candidate stash general election money collected in escrow.

Just in case.

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