Sweet: Emanuel steps down as Obama co-chair to raise campaign money
BY LYNN SWEET Twitter: @lynnsweet September 5, 2012 9:34PM
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the audience at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012 on the first day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). The DNC is expected to nominate US President Barack Obama to run for a second term as president. AFP PHOTO Stan HONDASTAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages
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Updated: October 7, 2012 8:01AM
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he quit his role as an Obama campaign co-chair to fund-raise for the Obama-sanctioned SuperPac — adding a heavyweight as Democrats are alarmed at how much they are being outraised by Republicans backing Mitt Romney.
Emanuel resigned from the campaign about two weeks ago but kept it secret, which allowed him to deliver his convention speech Tuesday night cast as a former Obama chief of staff — and incorrectly, it turns out, as a campaign co-chair. It was deception by omission.
Emanuel told me that with the election two months away, he is jumping into mega fund-raising “to help the best I can to level the playing field … in order to narrow this huge financial disparity.”
In order to help House candidates — Emanuel is a former chief of the House Democratic political operation — Emanuel is also taking on fund-raising chores for another SuperPac, the House Majority PAC, hosting an event Monday in Chicago.
Federal laws allow people connected with a campaign to appear before SuperPac potential donors, but they cannot make an official direct ask on behalf of a candidate — a hair-splitting legal distinction.
Emanuel quit the Obama campaign — he was one of about 20 co-chairs — in order to not raise questions about whether he was skirting a law — and, I am told, he was aware the optics of fund-raising for a SuperPac while holding a campaign title would be terrible.
Emanuel — who fund-raises in secret and declines to make public details unless it suits his agenda — met with potential donors to Priorities USA Action here on Wednesday.
Priorities, the main Obama SuperPac, was founded by two Emanuel proteges: Sean Sweeney, who was Emanuel’s chief of staff when Emanuel was in the Obama White House, and Bill Burton, a former White House spokesman who worked for Emanuel when he ran the Democratic House political operation, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Paul Begala, one of Emanuel’s closest friends and a political confidante, is a consultant to Priorities.
There have been several stories in national outlets about how the megadonors — rich people capable of writing million-dollar checks but have egos and like to deal with equals — have been wanting someone of stature to make the ask, not staffers.
Burton told me in an email, “Mayor Emanuel has agreed to help Priorities by making phone calls to potential supporters and attending events on our behalf. We couldn’t be happier to have his support.
“He has already begun making calls and attended an event today.”
No one connected to Emanuel publically revealed his switch; it was first disclosed Wednesday morning by Washington Post reporters Tom Hambuger and Peter Wallsten.
An Obama campaign source who did not want a name used said Emanuel “made clear he wanted to do whatever he could to help re-elect the president and thought this was the way he would maximize his impact.”
Emanuel is known for asking for a specific amount — he gets the number in his head he thinks a potential donor can afford and keeps pressure on until he gets a check.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), an Obama campaign co-chair in Charlotte, told me Emanuel’s appeal to major donors is “people understand his close relationship with the president, which is very important.” They also understand that his political analysis “is worth listening to,” Durbin said.
Last January, Burton pitched John Rogers, the chairman, CEO, and chief investment officer of Chicago’s Ariel Investments, resulting in a $50,000 check for Priorities.
Rogers, in Charlotte, told me he welcomed Emanuel’s entry because “he knows how to ask. So it is a real coup we got him involved and engaged in this historic presidential race.”
Said Rogers, “When he calls you, he has a specific goal in mind, and he is not shy about telling you exactly what he expects.”