WASHINGTON — Chicago is President Barack Obama's kind of town when it comes to top-dollar campaign donations. Windy City media baron Fred Eychaner was a leading Obama donor during the 2008 campaign and has raised more money for the president's re-election campaign this election season than any other Democratic donor.
Eychaner joins DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a New York hedge fund manager, a Southern California billionaire and a Michigan philanthropist in giving millions of dollars to help Obama win a second term. They are helping fund a presidential election that surpassed $2 billion in October, with money going toward the individual Republican and Democratic campaigns as well as independent "super" political committees working on the campaigns' behalf.
Political donations can open doors that are closed to most people. Big-dollar donors are often invited to state dinners at the White House and other events with the president. They also may be asked to weigh in on public policy, especially if it affects their own financial interests. And the ranks of ambassadors, advisory panels and other government jobs traditionally are filled with those who have been unusually generous during the campaign.
Based on an examination of more than 3.9 million campaign contributions through final pre-election finance reports in mid-October – the methodology is below – The Associated Press has ranked the top five financial supporters of Obama's:
No. 1: Fred Eychaner, founder of Chicago-based alternative-newspaper publisher Newsweb Corp.
Total: $3.57 million
Eychaner has given $3.5 million to the Priorities USA Action super PAC, the key pro-Obama committee that has aired millions of dollars' worth of ads critical of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Eychaner has also given more than $60,000 to the president's re-election committees, and he's listed as a major "bundler" for Obama, having raised at least $500,000 for the president. Eychaner, a gay-rights activist, also has donated millions to other nonprofit groups, including more than $1 million to the progressive EMILY's List organization. He's visited the White House several times since early 2009, according to records, and Obama appointed Eychaner to the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. During the 2008 election cycle, Newsweb spent more than $1.7 million on Illinois elections and about $200,000 on the federal level, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
No. 2: James Simons, 74, New York philanthropist, investor and founder of Renaissance Technologies.
Total: $3.5 million
Simons hasn't given one dollar to Obama's re-election campaign or the Democratic Party, but he's the most generous giver to Democratic-leaning super PACs. He's a billionaire hedge fund manager who's also president of Euclidean Capital. In August, he gave $2 million to Priorities USA Action and added $1 million more to the committee in September. His giving isn't limited to the presidential race: He's also donated big dollars to two super PACs helping Democrats in Congress, including $1.5 million to Majority PAC and $500,000 to the House Majority PAC. He's maxed out contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – it helps get Democrats elected to the House – and has helped DCCC Chairman Steve Israel's re-election effort.
No. 3: Jeffrey Katzenberg, 61, Hollywood film producer and chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.
Total: $3.07 million
A reliable Democratic Party mega-donor in past years, Katzenberg has given $3 million to Priorities USA Action this election cycle. Katzenberg has helped bundle more than $500,000 for the president's second term, making him among the campaign's top volunteer fundraisers. He's also given more than $66,000 to Obama's campaign and the Democratic Party. The Hollywood icon has been invited to White House events, including a state dinner. Such high-profile soirees put him in proximity earlier this year to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who signed off on an overseas deal benefiting Katzenberg's studio.
No. 4: Irwin Jacobs, 78, the founder and former chairman of Qualcomm.
Total: $2.122 million
Jacobs has given more than $2 million to pro-Obama super PACs and about $23,000 directly to Obama's campaign and the Democrats. But he's no newcomer to political giving: The La Jolla, Calif., billionaire has routinely backed San Diego-area politicians, including those in City Hall. Some of his local proposals have caused dust-ups in town, including one backed by San Diego's mayor that would have changed the name of Qualcomm Stadium for 10 days to reflect the cellphone-maker's new computer chip. Another proposal was to alter automobile traffic and parking in the city's historic Balboa Park. The plan was overwhelming approved by city officials, although a firm tied to Jacobs spent $34,000 to lobby the San Diego government for the change.
No. 5: Jon Stryker, 54, a Michigan philanthropist.
Total: $2.066 million
Stryker has given $2 million to the Priorities USA Action super PAC and has given $66,000 in contributions to Obama and the Democratic Party. Stryker is the heir to namesake Stryker Corp., the major medical-device and equipment manufacturer. Stryker has been active in politics before the 2012 election. He contributed millions to help Democratic candidates statewide, and he also has given nearly $250 million of his personal wealth to groups supporting gay rights and the conservation of apes.
These rankings by The Associated Press, based on campaign financial reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission, include contributions to super PACs, presidential campaigns, political parties and joint-fundraising committees that help Obama. Federal law limits maximum contributions to campaigns, parties and affiliated committees, but federal court rulings have stripped away such limits on super PACs. This analysis excludes secret but legal contributions that might have been made to nonprofit groups, which can pay for so-called issue ads that don't explicitly advocate for or against a candidate. Such groups are not required to identify their donors.
Where available, the analysis considered donations bundled, or raised, from other wealthy donors for Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Obama periodically identifies his bundlers. Romney has resisted repeated calls to do the same.