POLITICS
08/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Big-Dollar Donors Are Major Force in Obama Campaign

In an effort to cast himself as independent of the influence of money on politics, Senator Barack Obama often highlights the campaign contributions of $200 or less that have amounted to fully half of the $340 million he has collected so far.

But records show that one-third of his record-breaking haul has come from donations of $1,000 or more: a total of $112 million, more than Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama's Republican rival, or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his opponent in the Democratic primaries, raised in contributions of that size.

Behind those larger donations is a phalanx of more than 500 Obama "bundlers," fund-raisers who have each collected contributions totaling $50,000 or more. Many of the bundlers come from industries with critical interests in Washington. Nearly three dozen of the bundlers have raised more than $500,000 each, including more than a half-dozen who have passed the $1 million mark and one or two who have exceeded $2 million, according to interviews with fund-raisers.

While his campaign has cited its volume of small donations as a rationale for his decision to opt out of public financing for the general election, Mr. Obama has worked to build a network of big-dollar supporters from the time he began contemplating a run for the United States Senate. He tapped into well-connected people in Chicago prior to the 2004 Senate race, and once elected, set out across the country starting to cultivate some of his party's most influential money collectors.

He courted them with the savvy of a veteran politician, through phone calls, meals and one-on-one meetings; he wrote thank-you cards and remembered birthdays; he sent them autographed copies of his book and doted on their children.

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