No reporters were allowed in the tony fundraiser President Obama attended last night at the home of Comcast executive David L. Cohen. To get an after-action report, I called Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia attorney known for years as one of the most effective Democratic fundraisers in the state.
The most striking thing he told me is how hard it was to get big donors to pay $10,000 and up for an evening with the president.
“This was a heavy lift,” Kessler said. “This was one of the more difficult events like this that I’ve been involved with…it took a re-doubling of effort. It was hearing `no’ or `we’ll pass this time’ more than you’d like.”
The invitation to the event said $10,000 was the minimum to dine with Obama and his friends. If you gave $35,800 or raised $50,000, you would be an event host, which entitled you to “premium dinner seating.” And a donation of $71,600 per couple, or a commitment to raise $100,000 could make you an “event chair.”
Kessler said the event was a success, but not as well-attended or as easy to sell as the fundraiser he helped organize for Obama at Cohen’s house in 2008.
Why was it harder to reel in the big fish this time?
The economy is a factor, Kessler said, and it’s harder to get supporters juiced more than a year before the election, when the president doesn’t even have an opponent yet.
“And there was the president’s speech on Irael and the effect and that had on some Jewish donors,” Kessler said.
Kessler added that it’s a always a little harder to get local contributors to come up big for a presidential candidate. “It’s easier for a lot of local people to relate to state and local offices than to the DNC and the president,” he said.
Which figures, I guess. If you’re a developer looking for favorable treatment or a law firm looking for public contracts, you probably get a better return on your campaign investment from locals pols who pull strings where you live.
Kessler wouldn’t talk about how much money the event raised, but I’m told it was well over $2 million. Kessler said once the heavy lifting was done, the dinner was just lovely. The food was great (catered by Steven Starr), and the commander-in-chief was on.
“This president, unlike Bill Clinton has a reputation for doing a speech and then dashing,” Kessler said. “He didn’t do that last night. He was very patient. He entertained questions for 45 minutes.”
What kind of questions?
“It ran the gamut from the economy to the debt ceiling negotiations, even to Marcellus Shale,” he said.