Clinton Donors Threaten Pelosi

by Paul Hogarth on March 27, 2008

When Geraldine Ferraro made racist comments about Barack Obama, she added that Obama “shouldn’t antagonize people like me” – because she’s a big fundraiser for Democrats. Like most rich Hillary Clinton donors, Ferraro knows the old game where a small group of millionaires exert power by raising big bucks. And right now, they feel threatened.

Yesterday, a group of 20 “Hill-Raisers” chastised Nancy Pelosi for telling super-delegates not to override the will of the voters. They said that they’ve raised a lot of money for Democrats – so the threat was “we own you, so you better let Clinton steal the nomination.” But these people are dinosaurs, and Pelosi shouldn’t listen. Because the fundraising rules have changed.

On March 16th, House Speaker Pelosi – who has remained neutral in the Clinton-Obama race – made this rather benign statement on ABC News. “If the super-delegates [at the National Convention] overturn what’s happened in the elections,” she said, “it would be harmful to the Democratic Party.”

That did not please these 20 Clinton supporters, who promptly fired off a letter to Pelosi – calling her words “an untenable position that runs counter to the party’s intent in establishing super-delegates in 1984.” According to these donors, super-delegates should make their “individual decision,” and urged Pelosi to not undermine that “intent.”

It’s not like we haven’t heard such delusional talk from the Clinton campaign these days. It is mathematically impossible for her to win among the pledged delegates – so until she acknowledges that the campaign is over, Clinton and her supporters will continue to make such arguments.

But the Hill-Raisers took it a step further by threatening Nancy Pelosi with the future of the Democratic Party. “We have been strong supporters of the DCCC [which fundraises for Democrats running for Congress],” they said. “We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates, and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters.”

It’s easy to see how they’ve expressed their “enthusiasm.” Susie Tompkins Buell of San Francisco is a legendary donor, and a close friend of the Clintons. Her penthouse in Pacific Heights is famous for parties that raise thousands for Democratic candidates. Alan and Susan Patricoff of New York have a mansion in the Hamptons, where they’ve also hosted the Clintons.

Beyond their generous philanthropy, some of these donors have sketchy dealings. Chris Korge of Miami was dubbed Hillary Clinton’s Money Man, despite ethical real estate problems. And Steve Rattner’s responsible for managing New York Mayor (and former Republican) Mike Bloomberg’s investment portfolio.

J.B. Pritzker’s on the list. His family owns the Hyatt Corporation and also about half of Chicago (most of his relatives, however, are supporting Obama.) In 1998, the young Pritzker made an ill-fated run for Congress – coming in third place after annoying the District with his family fortune. Marc Lasry also signed the letter. He’s the founder of the Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund that currently employs Chelsea Clinton.

Some donors who signed the letter are also media moguls who’ve done what they can to tear down Obama. Haim Saban is the CEO of Univision, and his strident pro-Clinton bias has seeped into the influential Latino TV station’s coverage. And who can forget Robert Johnson – the founder of Black Entertainment Television who brought up Obama’s drug use while campaigning for Clinton in South Carolina? Yes, he signed it.

In the past, these millionaire donors were “kingmakers” for the Democratic Presidential nomination. One reason why the Establishment has won every contested primary contest is that you had to raise money from these people in order to be viable. Candidates like Hillary Clinton would secure their support early, leaving the insurgent candidate unable to wage a viable campaign after Super Tuesday and change the political dynamic.

“It is hard for other candidates,” Hassan Nemazee, a multimillionaire investment banker, told the New York Observer last year about Clinton’s fundraising. Nemazee also signed the letter, and served as finance chair for presidential candidates like John Kerry. “There is just so much oxygen available. There are only so many people out there who know how to do this and are willing to do this.”

But the rules changed with the Internet – along with grass-roots anger at George Bush, the Iraq War, and the Democratic Party’s pathetic weakness in fighting back. Now anyone with a credit card and online access can become a contributor. Barack Obama has raised millions of dollars for his Presidential campaign, but 41% of his donors have given less than $200. A majority of Clinton’s donors, however, have given more than $1,000.

The Democratic Party doesn’t need these 20 “Hill-Raisers” – and it upsets them that they are no longer relevant. Having played the game for so long, these rich donors are upset that for the first time in years, their anointed candidate could lose. If Clinton doesn’t win the nomination, it would mean no more overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom – and no more power and influence that they’ve enjoyed for decades.

While Clinton pursues the Tonya Harding Option of tearing down Obama so that super-delegates find him unacceptable, these donors went to Nancy Pelosi – hoping to find a sympathetic ear. But Pelosi should tell them what Teresa Heinz Kerry once famously told an annoying right-wing reporter: “Shove it.”

Because now’s the time to throw these donors overboard, and take back the Party.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In his spare time and outside of regular work hours, Paul Hogarth volunteered on Obama’s field operation in San Francisco.

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