WASHINGTON — When President Obama arrives in Portland on Friday to collect campaign cash, two Mainers who are among his elite national fundraisers will be on hand to greet him.
Bonnie Porta and Karen Harris co-chair Obama’s volunteer state fundraising effort – and they also are the only Mainers on Obama’s national roster of big bucks “bundlers” of campaign contributions.
Porta and Harris, both Cape Elizabeth residents, have steered between $200,000 and $500,000 each to Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, according to an Obama campaign list that contains broad ranges of fundraising achievement.
Individuals can contribute a maximum of $2,500 per primary season, and the same amount for the general election, directly to any federal candidate. But there are no limits on how much someone can solicit, collect and hand over to a campaign in the practice known as bundling.
Other bundlers on Obama’s national list include prominent names, such as actress Eva Longoria and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, as well as corporate executives from companies like Microsoft and Stonyfield Farm.
“Bundlers are people with friends in high places who, after bumping against personal contribution limits, turn to those friends, associates, and, well, anyone who’s willing to give, and deliver the checks to the candidate in one big ‘bundle,’ ” says the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign finance research organization. “Together, 444 elites are directing at least $74.2 million for Obama’s re-election efforts – money that has gone into the coffers of his campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee.”
While some of the bundler money goes to the party committee, it still is a big part Obama’s overall fundraising effort, which totaled about $157 million as of the end of February.
Porta and Harris declined to be interviewed. They released a statement through the Obama campaign that said in part they are “delighted to co-chair the volunteer Maine Finance Committee comprised of Mainers from across the state.”
The Obama campaign also declined to elaborate on the Mainers’ fundraising roles or how it tracks their bundling efforts.
In Obama’s 2008 campaign, Porta’s husband, Robert C.S. “Bobby” Monks, was one of two Mainers listed as a bundler who generated between $100,000 and $200,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Monks is a real estate developer and a minority owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and several smaller media products.
The other 2008 Maine Obama bundler was Severin Beliveau, a prominent State House lobbyist and former state legislator and Maine Democratic Party chair. His son Emmett is a high-level staffer in the Obama White House. Beliveau was in the $50,000 to $100,000 bundling range.
The fundraisers Friday, at the Hutchinson Union Building at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, are expected to draw up to 1,700 people. A much smaller dinner event will be held in the evening at the Portland Museum of Art where about 100 donors are expected.
Tickets for the larger event start at $100 for general admission – though student tickets start at $44 – and range up to $10,000 for entry to a photo reception with the president. Admission to the dinner ranges from $5,000 to a $30,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee.
Leading up to Friday’s fundraisers, Mainers have given Obama’s 2012 campaign more than $716,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
It isn’t known just how many of the Maine contributions were generated by Harris and Porta, who also could have raised money from out-of-state contributors.
But what is known is that there can be rewards for big bundlers, including access to the president at small events, invitations to White House dinners and even ambassadorships.
“If you get publicly identified by a presidential campaign (as a bundler) that means you are seen as a player and people recognize you as a player,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “You get a lot of benefits. It is not a one-way street by any stretch of the imagination, and you get to play in that whole upper echelon of American politics.”
But Jean Gulliver, co-chair of Maine Women for Obama and a member of the Obama for ME finance steering committee, said that no one in the Maine Obama campaign is tracking how much Porta or Harris or anyone else is raising because they’re not “seeking professional advantage in any way, but are doing this because they believe it is what needs to be done.”
She added that, “No one involved in our fundraising is saying Bonnie and Karen raised X dollars. No one knows and no one cares. We are all doing this together.”
There is no legal requirement for presidential campaigns to release their lists of bundlers, unless they are registered lobbyists. Campaign bundlers also are distinct from outside Super PACs, those independent political action committees that can receive donations of unlimited amounts from individual contributors.
George W. Bush famously had his roster of Pioneers, who raised $100,000. In 2008, Republican John McCain divulged in broad ranges bundlers who raised more than $50,000, the same as Obama in 2008 and this year. But the 2012 GOP presidential candidates are refusing to disclose their full lists of bundlers.
What Obama’s campaign doesn’t divulge is precise, cumulative amounts for how much bundlers like Porta and Harris raise, and details about bundlers’ occupations and employers. That’s something campaign finance reform advocates want to see changed, and they have appealed to Obama and other presidential candidates to voluntarily release more information.
“It is in the public interest for the presidential candidates to develop more specific disclosure policies,” said a coalition of groups, including the Center for Responsive Politics, the Campaign Legal Center and the Campaign Finance Institute, in a letter sent this month to Obama and the GOP candidates.
Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: