Sat, Dec 06, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Obama donors asked to bail out Clinton

AP , NEW YORK

US president-elect Barack Obama’s vast list of donors is being asked to donate to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as she scrambles to reduce her massive campaign debt before she becomes secretary of state and federal ethics rules limit her fundraising, an Obama adviser said on Thursday night.

An appeal on Clinton’s behalf signed by vice president-elect Joe Biden is to be sent by e-mail to all of the more than 3 million donors to Obama’s record-setting fundraising, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the e-mail had not yet been sent.

Obama promised after Clinton endorsed him to help her pay off her debt and this is the second time the Obama list has been asked to help Clinton. It was used once during the campaign as well, but its second use underlines the urgency of Clinton’s task now that she is Obama’s choice to be secretary of state.

Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, will headline a major debt retirement event in New York on Dec. 15 with Ugly Betty star America Ferrera as master of ceremonies. Tickets range from US$50 to US$1,000, with top donors earning a premium seat and a backstage photo with the former first lady.

On Tuesday, a day after Obama announced she would serve as his top diplomat, Bill Clinton signed an e-mail to supporters asking them to send a note of congratulations to his wife and including a link for contributing to her debt retirement.

The urgency is rooted in the size of the New York senator’s unpaid bills and the fundraising restrictions she will face once she joins Obama’s Cabinet.

At the beginning of last month, Clinton owed US$7.5 million to vendors from her failed presidential bid, campaign record showed.

The largest share of the debt — about US$5.3 million — is owed to the polling firm of Mark Penn, the Clintons’ longtime political strategist. She owes hundreds of thousands of dollars for printing, equipment rental, phone banks and other services.

Clinton has slowly been trimming the debt since suspending her campaign last June, partly with Obama’s help. But her fundraising efforts will be curtailed if she is confirmed as secretary of state and becomes covered by the Hatch Act, which regulates political involvement by federal employees.

A 2001 advisory opinion by the federal Office of Special Counsel said a federal employee with a campaign debt would be prohibited from “personally soliciting, accepting or receiving political contributions.”

That means Clinton’s political committee could keep raising money to pay off her creditors, but without her direct involvement.

The lack of access could pose a disincentive for donors, said Sheila Krumholz, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political donations.

“People write a check to get into the room with a candidate or government official. If she’s legally barred from fundraising, the No. 1 reason for giving has been removed,” Krumholz said. “It’s like attending a wedding and the bride isn’t there.”

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