A big reason for that frenetic pace is that Obama has alienated billionaires—both by his policies, which have encouraged enormous gifts to Romney, and by his failure to stroke those on his side’s fragile egos, which has discouraged big donations to Obama. She contrasts Obama’s aversion to schmoozing to Bill Clinton’s with a fantastic anecdote from a big Democrat donor:

Hiatt, the former Stride Rite chairman, has witnessed at first hand the difference between Obama and Bill Clinton. In 1996, Hiatt divided half a million dollars among thirty-eight congressional candidates (all of whom were committed to campaign-finance reform). He recalls, “That gave me the dubious distinction of being the second-largest contributor to the Democratic National Committee, which I shuddered at.” In the spring of 1997, he says, President Clinton invited him to a dinner. When he arrived, he found thirty top contributors seated around a table. “It was so vulgar,” he says. “The biggest donors were closest to the President. On his right was Bernard Schwartz, of Loral Corporation, who was later given permission to launch a satellite in China.” (Schwartz, who was cleared of accusations that his donations were improper, says he is “truly sorry” for having given large sums, in indirect gifts, to Democrats—a strategy that he calls “inimical to the well-being of politics in the country.”) After dinner, Hiatt recalls, Clinton “stroked the fat cats,” asking each donor for his thoughts, and obligingly taking notes.

I like to think those notes looked a little something like this:

Anyway, the Loral anecdote there makes it all the more baffling that this gets in the story unchecked:

Creating a sense of intimacy with the President is especially important with Democratic donors, a frustrated Obama fund-raiser argues: “Unlike Republicans, they have no business interest being furthered by the donation—they just like to be involved. So it makes them more needy. It’s like, ‘If you’re not going to deregulate my industry, or lower my taxes, can’t I at least get a picture?’”

I think it’s true that Republican donors have more business interests to further with donations than Democrats—many more—but it’s ridiculous to let an anonymous source assert that Dem donors have no business interests to push when many of them very plainly do. (UPDATE: I erred above in saying that this argument was “unchecked”. Mayer quotes a GOP operative further down in the piece disputing it.)

It’s another example of how this story lets Obama and the Dems off the hook a bit too easy. But nevertheless, this piece is valuable for the spotlight it shines on the soft corruption of how we pay for our elections.


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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.