Monday, November 30, 2015

Three thoughts on Booker's fund-raising

Here are three left-over thoughts based on my Sunday story looking at Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s early fund-raising push, his help from big-time celebrities from coast to coast and a huge influx of cash from outside New Jersey.

Three thoughts on Booker's fund-raising


Here are three left-over thoughts based on my Sunday story looking at Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s early fund-raising push, his help from big-time celebrities from coast to coast and a huge influx of cash from outside New Jersey.

Included below are looks at how Booker’s out-of-state receipts compare to those of other senators, and some of the fun, famous names who have given big to his campaign - including Star Trek director J.J. Abrams, a New York Giants star and a couple familiar faces for New Jersey political watchers. But first ...

1. The competing narratives being put forward by Booker, the big favorite to replace retiring New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, and potential competitor Frank Pallone became clear in my reporting for the Sunday piece.


The Booker camp is touting the mayor as a kind of post-partisan figure who would bridge the gaps that frustratingly divide Washington. Meanwhile supporters backing Pallone, a long-time Democratic Congressman, have taken to calling him a “true Democrat” who would stand strong on the party’s key issues.

That seems to be a play both to Pallone’s record – he has long been a loyal party figure – and to insider criticism of Booker as a lone star who has put his own ambitions first (as if that’s anything new in politics).

Booker, though, seems to be delivering a message of reaching across the aisle, and it’s one that his supporters are hearing very clearly. Here’s what movie producer Jerry Weintraub said when I asked him about Booker’s appeal:

“He can talk to all constituencies all across the board,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s such gridlock in Washington … unless we break down these crazy people on the right and these crazy people on the left” nothing will get done.

In particular, he pointed to Booker's comments during last year's presidential campaign defending Bain Capital and private equity firms, which angered the left but Weintraub said showed Booker's independence.

Now, Weintraub is a big booster – he gave Booker $5,000 on Jan. 7, a day before the mayor officially filed his papers creating a senate fund-raising committee, and recently hosted a star-studded fund-raiser for Booker at his Beverly Hills mansion – so maybe he was just giving the company line.

But then I spoke to Michael Ostroff, a Summit, N.J. resident who gave Booker $1,000 and who I contacted at random, looking for some New Jersey supporters to discuss why they were backing the mayor.

“I think Cory Booker has the skills to really bring opposing parties together, something that President Obama, in my opinion, has failed miserably at,” said Ostroff. “The first thing that attracted him to me was his story and his presence in front of folks that think independently.”

Ostroff had seen Booker at a fund-raiser at a friend’s house in Summit. Weintraub had hosted Booker in Beverly Hills. Each came away with the same impression. That says Booker is selling a vision of himself, and those listening believe what he has to say.

“I can make partnerships across the aisle and get things done,” Booker recently told the Daily Beast. “I can work with Rand Paul. I can work with Ted Cruz. I love libertarians.”

Now here was what Pallone’s campaign had to say about the 13-term Congressman who has a record as liberal as you’d expect from someone who enrolled at Middlebury College in the late ‘60s: they said he has a record of "standing on the right side of issues such as gun safety and the environment, and being a true Democratic leader for our state.”

“Work across the aisle” versus “true Democrat.” Defending big businesses versus environmental protection. We’ve got the making of a real contrast for Democratic voters -- the liberal who will always be with you against the get-it-done mayor who will cross party lines.

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see those messages clash in a real primary – Pallone seems unlikely to run unless Booker stumbles or can’t secure party support. But as Booker and Pallone, and maybe some others, lobby for Democratic backing in the run up to the 2014 campaign, it’s becoming clear how they each plan to distinguish themselves.

2. My analysis of Booker’s first quarter fund-raising shows that more than 75 percent of his money is coming from outside of New Jersey. That’s what happens when you get huge sums from Hollywood stars and New York professionals. (NY accounted for around 40 percent of Booker’s fund-raising).

The Booker campaign pointed out that many New Jersey senators get lots of money from outside the state, and they’re right, but early on Booker is at a different level when it comes to outside cash.

Consider this: last year Sen. Robert Menendez (D.,NJ) got 55 percent of his campaign money from out of state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. (That’s probably due to ties to New York, just across the river from his Hudson County base, and Florida, whose large Cuban-American population supports Menendez).

When Lautenberg last ran, in 2008, he got 63 percent of his money from out of state, according to the center.

Booker was at 75 percent in his first report, and that’s before an April West Coast swing (including the big fund raiser at Weintraub’s home) and an event in Boston last week. As I reported Sunday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is also planning an event for Booker.

The mayor’s campaign pointed out that he has concentrated on out-of-state events in large part because New Jersey Democrats are focused on taking on Gov. Christie in this year’s election. A fair point, but his reports will bear watching.

As a national figure, known for his speeches, Twitter account, and a documentary and TV series featuring him, Booker has a long reach. We’ll see next year how deep an appeal he has to New Jerseyans who see him up close.

3. Lastly, there just wasn’t enough space for all of the big names giving money to Booker. There were big TV executives, producers and directors, Hollywood agents and a couple of names known well to New Jersey political watchers. Here are a few who were edited out of the story or we just didn’t have space for:

- JJ Abrams, Star Trek director and Lost creator - $5,000
- Mark O’Donnell,
partner of former NJ Gov. James McGreevey, $1,000
- David Shaw, Stanford football coach, $1,000 (Booker played at Stanford, though not under Shaw).
- Victor Cruz, NY Giants wide receiver, $2,500
- Barry Meyer, Warner Brothers chairman, $4,800
- Richard Plepler, HBO co-president, $5,000
- Christopher Drake Heinz, son of Teresa Heinz-Kerry and stepson of John Kerry, $5,000
- Steve Tisch, co-owner of the NY Giants and Hollywood producer, $2,000
- Christopher Albrecht, Starz CEO, $5,000
- Jared Kushner, owner of the New York Observer and son of developer Charles Kushner, once a major Democratic donor, gave $5,200. (It was Jared Kushner’s first federal donation since 2006, when he gave to Joe Lieberman, according to Federal Election Commission Records. Kushner is married to Ivanka Trump, who also gave $5,200).

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About this blog

Jonathan Tamari is the Inquirer’s Washington correspondent. He writes about the lawmakers, politics and policy that affect Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Tamari previously covered the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL. Before that he worked in Trenton, reporting on the characters and color of New Jersey state government. He lives in Washington.

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