January 22, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has built a who's who roster of Chicago business leaders to help him raise millions in President Barack Obama's backyard.
Romney's Illinois finance committee, which has 22 members, is led by Goldman Sachs managing director Muneer Satter. Among the other members: Reeve Waud, founder of private equity firm Waud Capital Partners; Susan Crown, a philanthropist and member of the billionaire Crown family; Abbott Laboratories Chief Executive Miles White; and Robert Asher, a former president of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
In an only-in-Chicago twist, about half of Romney's Illinois finance committee members have crossed the aisle and donated either to Obama's 2008 campaign or the mayoral campaign of Democrat Rahm Emanuel. In addition to being a former chief of staff to Obama, Emanuel is credited with seizing control of Congress from Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections.
Romney's finance committee members and their spouses have donated more than $560,000 to Emanuel and Obama's most recent campaigns and inaugurations.
Satter and his wife, Kristen Hertel, donated $100,000 to Obama's inauguration and $4,200 to his campaign, according to a tally of campaign finance records conducted by the Tribune. They also made donations to Romney and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain during the 2008 election cycle. Hertel also donated $100,000 to Emanuel's mayoral campaign.
Former Cook County Assessor and Democrat James Houlihan said the overlap among Obama and Romney donors is not surprising.
"If there's one thing I've learned from studying political contributions in Chicago, it's that the city has three parties," he said. "There's the 'R' party (Republicans); the 'D' party (Democrats); and the 'W' party — for the winners' party. There are people who always support the winners."
Satter declined an interview request. Through a spokeswoman, he said he and his wife gave $100,000 to Obama's inauguration "because he wanted to support the president, and the idea that anybody can achieve anything." As for his wife's $100,000 contribution to Emanuel, Satter is "a big fan" of the mayor, the spokeswoman said.
Richard Porter, an attorney for Kirkland & Ellis and member of Romney's finance committee, cast the donor overlap as a signal that business leaders had abandoned Obama over controversial policies, such as health care reform.
"The pixie dust that was protecting (Obama) in 2008 is gone, and I think people see now that he is a big-government liberal," Porter said. He later added: "I think almost everyone in the business community who is a moderate to a conservative who supported Obama in the past is now not supporting Obama."
Recent poll numbers support the assertion that Obama has lost support among moderates. A New York Times/CBS News poll published Wednesday found only 31 percent of independent voters, who were critical to Obama's 2008 victory, had a favorable opinion of the president and two-thirds said he has not made real progress in fixing the economy.
The poll also found nearly half of independents said they had not formed an opinion of Romney.
Regardless of whether Illinois becomes in play politically, the state is critical to both parties' fundraising. Romney is expected to attend two fundraisers here in the spring, said Lisa Wagner, Midwest finance director of Romney for President. That's on top of two fundraisers he attended last year, one at the home of Crown and her husband, William Kunkler, and another at Waud's home on the North Shore.
Crown's brother, Jim Crown, and Ariel Investments founder John Rogers were co-chairs of Obama's 2008 Illinois finance committee. This year, Rogers, real estate developer Neil Bluhm and Vicki Heyman, whose husband, Bruce, also is a Goldman Sachs managing director in Chicago, are co-chairing the Obama finance committee.
Rogers credited Heyman with being "a big advocate" of a concept called a leadership circle.
Members of the Chicago Leadership Circle, according to Reuters, have donated the maximum $5,000 to the campaign. In return, they receive access to private briefings and events. The group includes approximately 80 Chicagoans, Reuters reported, and the concept could be adopted elsewhere.
"I know it has been extraordinarily well-received as a way of keeping major donors involved and engaged, and feeling a part of the ongoing flow," Rogers said.
Rogers said momentum is building for the Obama campaign as the economy and the financial markets have improved. Obama's campaign committee and the Democratic National Committee raised $224 million in 2011, more than the Republican field combined.
Rogers said political fundraising is always "a game of addition," meaning Obama must add to his donor base, not just retain prior supporters. And he has seen plenty of new faces at campaign headquarters.
"Four years ago, maybe they were with Hillary," he said.
Aon Corp. is moving its headquarters to London, but Chief Executive Greg Case's family will not be moving with it. According to two sources, Case's two children will remain in school here, and his wife also will not relocate. The sources say the Winnetka family's life is unlikely to change, as Case already travels regularly. He tries to meet face-to-face with 100 clients a month.
Chicago will host another global leadership event prior to the NATO and G-8 summits in May. On March 8 and 9, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, will be in town for two meetings.
The first, at Chicago's Cultural Center, will be a round table on urban sustainability. Emanuel; Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the OECD; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will preside.
The next day, at the Hilton Chicago, the OECD and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce will release an economic plan for the Chicago region.
Melissa Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-222-4582.
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