President Obama is bolstering his party's campaign coffers, joining an ally of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help the Democratic National Committee climb out of a worrisome deficit. It's the latest alignment of the Obama and Clinton orbits, as the former first lady considers a White House bid in 2016.
Obama is traveling to New York Tuesday to raise money for the party at two events, including a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of Alan Patricof, the founder of a New York venture capital fund. Patricof is a longtime Clinton friend and financial bundler for her Senate and presidential campaigns.
The event illustrates the overlapping fundraising draw that Obama and the former first lady, senator and secretary of state represent for the party at a crucial time for the cash-strapped DNC. It also helps bridge some internal party tensions between donors who are merely interested in presidential politics and the Democrats' needs during this year's midterm elections.
Patricof wrote in a February email to contributors that he and his wife, Susan, had been "relatively quiet on the political front" following Clinton's loss to Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.
"The most effective way that we all can be helpful to Hillary, and the Democratic Party in general, is to make sure that the Democratic National Committee is as strong as possible if Hillary should decide to run in 2016 and, for that matter, if any other good candidate appears on the scene if she decides not to be in the race," Patricof wrote in the email, first reported by Politico.
He called the fundraiser with Obama a "fireside chat" that would include 13 couples — 26 people — paying $32,500 per person.
The DNC has been trying to pare down millions of dollars in debt accumulated during Obama's re-election campaign; through the end of January the DNC owed more than $15 million.
Obama, who will also raise money at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser while in New York, has been making a sober fundraising pitch of late, warning that Democrats run the risk of losing control of the Senate if the party doesn't have the resources to motivate voters this November.
The president's cash-raising comes amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine and a fast-approaching health care sign-up deadline that have been preoccupying the White House, underscoring the competing demands on Obama. It also comes as Obama is struggling with tepid approval ratings. Recent Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research polls place his job approval at 45 and 43 percent respectively. Over the past year, Obama's approval ratings as measured by Gallup have fluctuated between a high of 51 percent last April and 39 percent in January.
If Clinton runs and wins the party's nomination in 2016, the DNC would serve as a platform of continuity between the Obama White House and a future Clinton campaign. Party leaders recently outlined plans to build upon its technological advantage over Republicans and expand its voter registration and protection work in key states, steps that will help Obama's successor.
The DNC already has plenty of Clinton connections. Committee members include Harold Ickes and Minyon Moore, both longtime advisers to Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. One of its top fundraisers is Michael Kempner, a New Jersey public relations executive who served as co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 national finance committee and was a top bundler for Obama in 2012.
For many Clinton backers, the DNC is a natural place to offer help while the former New York senator mulls her future.
"It's a clear signal that the Clinton faction of the party is seeking to help the president any way possible," said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton's campaigns. "Money is still the mother's milk of American politics."
The fundraiser is the latest in a series of steps that have helped bring together the Obama and Clinton camps after the bitterness of the 2008 primary fight.
Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action recently brought on board Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager, to lead the group. It made clear that it will back Clinton if she seeks the nomination. The super PAC's executive director is Buffy Wicks, a former top Obama campaign staffer.
Ready for Hillary, a grassroots group aiming to lay the groundwork for a Clinton campaign, is advised by former Obama campaign aides Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart. In Iowa, which traditionally holds the nation's first presidential caucus, the super PAC dispatched 250 volunteers last weekend to sign up new members at county Democratic conventions. The group covered 84 of the state's 99 counties.
Patricof is managing director of Greycroft LLC, a venture capital firm he founded in 2006. In November, Obama appointed him to the President's Global Development Council.