Obama leads with corporate crowd - Clinton can play hometown card, too, but it has done little to help her so far
By Susan Chandler
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune
September 2, 2007
The typical Midwestern business leader is a rock-ribbed Republican who favors socially moderate policies but strongly opposes more regulation and higher taxes. That makes it somewhat of a surprise that Barack Obama, a Democrat from Chicago's South Side, appears to be winning their hearts and wallets.
Hundreds of Chicago executives, lawyers and investment bankers have written checks to Obama, according to a Tribune analysis of campaign contributions during the first six months of this year. Most aren't hedging their political bets by giving money to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party's front-runner in national polls—so far anyway.
Obama's allies in corner offices run the industry gamut from Exelon Chief Executive John Rowe to Madison Dearborn Chairman John Canning to Baxter International CEO Robert Parkinson.The Obama camp also is being supported by Brenda Barnes, the CEO of Sara Lee Corp.; William Osborn, the head of Northern Trust Corp.; and Michael Krasny, founder of CDW Corp.
The Tribune analysis found that among CEOs of the Chicago area's 50 largest publicly traded companies, 10 made personal contributions directly to Obama totaling a little more than $29,000. Clinton's tally: zero.
The aggregate numbers are fairly small because federal election laws limit individuals to $2,300 in donations for the party primaries and another $2,300 for the presidential election. If a candidate ends up not winning the nomination, he or she must return the contributions related to general election.
Clinton still has plenty of time to catch up, her supporters point out. Serious fundraising kicks into gear again after Labor Day.
Among Republican contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was favored by a handful of Chicago CEOs—including Miles White at Abbott Laboratories, Judson Green at Navteq and Patrick Moore of Smurfit-Stone Container Corp.—who gave him a total of about $8,000. Arizona Sen. John McCain came in second, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani came in third.
The top executives at Chicago's 50 largest private companies were more Republican than their public-company peers, with fewer than 10 contributing to any presidential hopeful in the first half. Of those that did, four gave money to Romney, including Craig Duchossois of Duchossois Industries Inc. and William Wirtz of the Wirtz Corp., who also donated a smaller amount to McCain.
One Chicago company that has the bases pretty well covered is Equity Residential Properties Trust, the giant apartment landlord. CEO David Neithercut gave money to Obama and Dodd, while Chairman Sam Zell backed Giuliani and McCain. (Zell is a director of Tribune Co., which owns this newspaper.)
Obama's fundraising lead among business types is reflected among Illinois residents in general.
Through the first half of the year, Obama received $7.7 million in campaign contributions, according to the latest amended filings available from the Federal Election Commission.
Clinton raised less than one-quarter of that—$1.8 million.
No Republican presidential candidate has even broken the seven-figure mark in Illinois. McCain, whose campaign has stalled from lack of money nationally, has raised more than $735,000. Romney has gathered $623,000, and Giuliani rounds out the top three with $575,000, according to the election commission.
As disappointing as that is for the Republican Party, it has got to be a bigger disappointment for the Clinton campaign.
Clinton has claimed hometown status here because she grew up in suburban Park Ridge. Illinois also was a big contributor to her husband's two successful runs for president, and now the state is holding its primary in February, early enough to sway the choice of a presidential nominee.
Clinton's campaign leaders are putting the best spin on the situation. They say they haven't tried very hard in Illinois, choosing instead to target other states. They also say fundraising here picked up quite a bit in the second quarter.
"Obviously to see this kind of support in Illinois has been a pleasant surprise," said Clinton spokesman Blake Zeff. "Each time Hillary has come to Chicago, the reception has been extremely warm, and for that we are very grateful."
Clinton picked up an important endorsement this summer from prominent Republican donor Terrence Duffy, the head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Duffy praised her for crossing party lines and combining leadership with "pragmatic problem-solving skills."
Clinton's distant second in Illinois fundraising could be hard to overcome, said political consultant Eric Adelstein.
"The better [Obama] does the more of a hindrance on her fundraising in this state it becomes," said Adelstein, who is not working for either candidate. "He has got a real lock on Illinois at this point."
James Tyree, CEO of Mesirow Financial, believes he is an example of why Obama has come on so strong in so short a time.
"I'm really not often active in these types of things, but in this case, I think Barack is such a unique talent, I think he can win. I think he is level-headed and balanced, unlike many of the other folks who are throwing their hat in the ring."
Tyree says he has not contributed to the Clinton campaign. "Barack has all my support, and I'm asking all my friends around the country to support him."
Kenneth Janda, an emeritus political science professor at Northwestern University, says Obama's fundraising success is two-pronged. Obama is tapping "new sources" who probably wouldn't have contributed to the presidential race at all, Janda says. Others simply want to make sure they have access to him whether he ends up as the presidential nominee or remains one of the state's two U.S. senators.
"That's the critical factor. They want to be on-board," Janda said. Contributing to both Obama and Clinton would be a "pretty transparent" attempt to hedge one's bets and won't have the same payoff with the eventual winner, he added.
Still some high-profile business people are contributing to both Democratic front-runners.
John Bryan, the former CEO of Sara Lee Corp., has donated to Obama and Clinton. So did William Daley, the Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and the mayor's brother. Bill Daley didn't stop there: He also gave money to the presidential campaigns of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd.
Some share within party
Another person spreading his money around is William Brandt, the turnaround specialist who has hosted several big fundraising dinners for former President Bill Clinton and is a close friend and adviser of Hillary Clinton's.
Brandt has contributed the maximum amount—$4,600 for the presidential primary and general election—to Clinton and Obama. He also has contributed to the primary campaign of Edwards, who is running third in the polls.
Brandt said he is doing it because he wants to encourage vigorous debate among a strong field of candidates. "I'm one of those Democrats who think we have an embarrassment of riches. I want them to be heard for as long as possible. I think the clash of ideas helps and sharpens both Barack and Hillary."
Yet there's no question who he wants to see in the Oval Office in 2008. "With our kids dying in Iraq, who do you want to be pulling the levers of power? It's got to be Hillary," Brandt said.
Brandt is willing to shoulder some of the blame for Clinton's slow start in Illinois. He says he advised her to focus elsewhere so as not to test the loyalties of local contributors. Brandt also predicts Clinton will catch up in Illinois before the primaries begin early next year.
She took a step in that direction June 25 with a fundraiser at the Palmer House Hilton attended by 600 people, including Yusef Jackson and Ernie Banks. The dinner was a sellout and raised more than $1 million, twice what organizers had hoped.
The summer is a slow period because many people are on vacation, so Brandt doesn't expect another big surge until after Labor Day.
For Clinton, New York and California continue to lead in her fundraising efforts. Illinois ranks eighth for her. The Land of Lincoln comes in second for Obama, trailing only California, a more populous state. New York ranks third for Obama.
Obama backers not surprised
Obama advisers John Rogers, CEO and founder of Ariel Capital Management, and Valerie Jarrett, CEO of Habitat Co., say Obama's fundraising success here should come as no surprise.
"I get calls all the time from people who want to be involved, write checks, volunteer. I've been involved in politics for 25 years, and I've never seen anything like it," said Rogers, who heads one of the country's largest minority-owned investment firms. "People just believe in him and like him personally."
It is more than just charisma, says Jarrett, who chaired Obama's finance committee during his Senate race. Despite his liberal policies such as universal health-care coverage, he is trusted by the local executives and entrepreneurs because they have seen him operate up close.
"The business community here knows him and what kind of elected official he has been. His fundraising numbers demonstrate complete confidence in his candidacy," she said.
The Clinton-Obama race has revealed some fault lines in Chicago's wealthiest family—the Pritzker clan. Real estate executive Penny Pritzker is heading up national fundraising for Obama, while her brother, venture capitalist J.C. Pritzker, is the national chairman of Citizens for Hillary, an initiative designed to garner votes and contributions from the grass-roots level.
However, campaign records show that most Pritzkers and many members of the billionaire Crown family are backing Obama rather than Clinton.
A number of Chicago business leaders are hedging their bets in a different way—they gave money to Obama and McCain.
Public relations magnate Daniel Edelman did, and so did Krasny, Rowe and Osborn. Canning found a different straddle—Obama and Romney.
But with McCain running short of cash and trailing in the polls, he appears increasingly unlikely to be the Republican candidate, political experts say. That leaves Chicago's business community with a big bet on Obama, one they hope will pay off if he becomes the first Illinois politician to occupy the Oval Office since Abraham Lincoln.