For Obama, Clinton, Cash Needs Are Intertwined Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is famous for his army of small donors, but big donors are still vital to his campaign efforts. At an event in Washington, Obama will welcome a bevy of bundlers — people who round up contributions for campaigns — once loyal to his former rival, Hillary Clinton.
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For Obama, Clinton, Cash Needs Are Intertwined

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For Obama, Clinton, Cash Needs Are Intertwined

For Obama, Clinton, Cash Needs Are Intertwined

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is away. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will campaign together tomorrow, their first joint public appearance since their primary battle ended. But tonight they'll appear together in a private meeting with Clinton's top fundraisers.

That's not surprising since the money that's been raised and spent has topped all previous records. Senator Clinton also managed to rack up an unprecedented amount of campaign debt. Her campaign owes vendors millions of dollars, and she loaned her campaign millions more.

We begin our coverage of the money with NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY: While Clinton was running in the red, Obama was building an army of small donors - 1.6 million of them, far more than any other campaign in American politics. But this week, Obama is turning his attention to big money, the kind that comes in from bundlers who round up contributions for the campaign. Obama needs Hillary Clinton's bundlers now that he's turned down public funds for the general election campaign.

At the same time, Clinton needs his bundlers to help retire her debt. This week, those two intertwined interests get resolved. Steve Grossman was a bundler for Clinton, now he's raising money for Obama.

Mr. STEVE GROSSMAN (Former Bundler for Hillary Clinton, Fundraiser for Barack Obama): They reached out to me. Senator Obama called me. I spoke to some of the fundraising leadership of the campaign. They made me feel extremely welcome.

OVERBY: Today, Grossman goes to his third weekly meeting of a unity fundraising committee. Tonight he's in Washington when Clinton introduces Obama to her bundlers.

Mr. GROSSMAN: I think there will be a request for commitments of support and of help.

OVERBY: Help of a monetary nature.

Mr. GROSSMAN: And I believe that most of the people coming are prepared to do that. It is an effort to secure significant commitments, earlier rather than later, to help Senator Obama realize his ambitious fundraising goals - both for the campaign and for the Democratic National Committee.

OVERBY: Obama has been wooing Clinton's voters and donors. His Web site has this under welcome Hillary supporters:

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Our party and our country are better off because of her. And I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton.

(Soundbite of applause)

OVERBY: That's from his June 3 victory speech. And on Tuesday he gave Clinton the ultimate gift in politics: he asked his own finance committee — his biggest bundlers — to help pay off her $10 million debt. He told them Clinton made history. Linda Douglass, with the Obama campaign, said he also had this more pragmatic message.

Ms. LINDA DOUGLASS (With Barack Obama Campaign): She's going to be an extremely important part of our effort, and it is in the interests of the Democratic Party to do whatever we can to help settle her debt.

OVERBY: His pitch didn't thrill everyone on the conference call, but fundraiser Alan Solomont says Obama asked them to help him help her. Solomont also noted that Clinton isn't seeking money to repay the $12 million that she personally lent to her campaign. Another fundraiser, speaking anonymously about the business of political money, said, of course I'm going to do it. It's what you do in a campaign.

Left out of all this are Obama's small donors — the people he cited to defend his rejection of public funds for the fall campaign.

Obama's monthly fundraising totals peaked in February. They've been steadily falling since then, as the campaign relies more on small online contributions. May was his weakest month of 2008.

Meanwhile, Republican John McCain has been raising money almost nonstop. On May 31, he was just $11.5 million behind Obama. It's the closest gap they've had so far.

Linda Douglass says the primary campaign is retooling for the fall election, and the new operation will attract even more small donors than before.

Ms. DOUGLASS: This is not the same campaign which has attracted all this attention and zeal. This is one that we predict will attract even more passion.

OVERBY: But at the independent Campaign Finance Institute, Steve Weissman says Obama depended on big donors and bundlers when he started running, back in January of 2007.

Mr. STEVE WEISSMAN (Campaign Finance Institute): And there's now evidence that in getting the private financing that he wants for the general election, that he's going to have to cultivate large donors and bundlers again.

OVERBY: The good news for Obama is that if he can combine Clinton's bundlers with his own, his ability to raise big contributions would roughly double. The bad news? Traditionally, it's been the big bundlers who are most likely to say remember me after the election.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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