NEW YORK – Melding 2014 needs with 2016 hopes, President Barack Obama teamed up Tuesday with an ally and fundraiser of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to help the Democratic Party erase a worrisome debt.
Obama was in New York Tuesday to raise money for the Democratic National Committee at a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of Alan Patricof, the founder of a New York venture capital fund. Patricof is a longtime Clinton friend and fundraiser for her Senate and presidential campaigns, and the event aligns the Obama and Clinton orbits as the former first lady considers a White House bid in 2016.
It also illustrates the overlapping fundraising draw that Obama and Clinton represent at a crucial time for the cash-strapped DNC. And it helps bridge some internal party tensions between donors who are merely interested in presidential politics and the Democrats’ needs during this year’s midterm elections.
Obama also raised money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser at the home of Hamilton “Tony” James, an Obama fundraiser and president of Blackstone, the multinational private equity firm.
Obama told donors he could accomplish much more with a cooperative Congress and complained that Washington is hindered by an “atmosphere that puts a premium on saying no.”
Obama has been making the case that he will sidestep Congress and act on his own if needed. But in remarks to more than 30 donors and supporters, including New York’s Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, Obama said, “man, it would be a lot easier if I had a Congress that was serious about America’s future.”
Obama’s remarks came around the same time that Republican David Jolly won a Florida congressional seat in a race deemed a test for November’s mid-term elections.
Obama conceded that Democrats also have flaws. “We have our blind spots, we have our dogmas, we have our crazy folks,” he said.
“But as a whole,”he added, “this is a party that is serious about making sure that America is growing and offering opportunity to everybody.”
In re-entering the Democratic fundraising scene, Patricof wrote in a February email to contributors that he and his wife, Susan, had been “relatively quiet on the political front” following Clinton’s loss to Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.
“The most effective way that we all can be helpful to Hillary, and the Democratic Party in general, is to make sure that the Democratic National Committee is as strong as possible if Hillary should decide to run in 2016 and, for that matter, if any other good candidate appears on the scene if she decides not to be in the race,” Patricof wrote in the email, first reported by Politico.
About 25 people paid up to $32,400 per person – the same as for the senatorial event – for a private session with Obama. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama’s talk, unlike his remarks before the senatorial campaign donors, was not public because he did not make formal remarks.
The DNC has been trying to pare millions of dollars in debt accumulated during Obama’s re-election campaign; through the end of January the DNC owed more than $15 million.
Obama also made a brief stop to browse the sweaters at a midtown Gap store to show support for the chain’s decision to increase wages for U.S. employees to a minimum of $10 an hour by next year. Obama wants Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but lawmakers have resisted.
The president’s cash-raising comes amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine and a fast-approaching health care sign-up deadline that have been preoccupying the White House. It also comes as Obama is struggling with tepid approval ratings. Recent Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research polls place his job approval at 45 percent and 43 percent respectively. Over the past year, Obama’s approval ratings as measured by Gallup have fluctuated between a high of 51 percent last April and 39 percent in January.
If Clinton runs and wins the party’s nomination in 2016, the DNC would serve as a platform of continuity between the Obama White House and a future Clinton campaign. The DNC already has plenty of Clinton connections. Committee members include Harold Ickes and Minyon Moore, both longtime advisers to Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. One of its top fundraisers is Michael Kempner, a New Jersey public relations executive who served as co-chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 national finance committee and was a top fundraiser for Obama in 2012.
For many Clinton backers, the DNC is a natural place to offer help while the former New York senator and Cabinet member mulls her future.
“It’s a clear signal that the Clinton faction of the party is seeking to help the president any way possible,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton’s campaigns. “Money is still the mother’s milk of American politics.”