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Smoot rakes in millions for Obama campaign

By A. James Memmott

February 21, 2008 at 9:53am

Get that woman an office. She’s earned it.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Julianna Smoot, finance director for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, doesn’t even have an office.

Nonetheless, Smoot has led an effort that has brought in more than $150 million so far, $36 million in January alone, the Times reported.

In terms of money raised overall, that should put the Illinois senator, who won the Wisconsin Democratic primary Tuesday, ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY.

Few people would have predicted a year ago that Obama would lead Clinton in money raised, much less in terms of delegates won.

Some credit for this feat, the Times suggests, should go to Smoot, a person with a vast network of links to donors as well as experience raising money in the Internet age.

Smoot last served as the finance director for the 2006 Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. That committee, led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-NY, was a major factor in the Democratic Party’s retaking control of the Senate.

A North Carolina native and a 1989 Smith College graduate, Smoot raised $21 million as the finance director of former Sen. Thomas Daschle’s unsuccessful 2004 re-election bid in South Dakota.

She’s one several Obama staffers connected to Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and a key Obama adviser and supporter.

Smoot also worked for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, now the American Association of Justice. And she was finance director of John Edwards’ 1998 Senate campaign in North Carolina.

According to The Washington Post, Obama’s representatives approached Smoot in November 2006, three months before Obama had announced his presidential candidacy.

They asked her to put together a fundraising plan for Obama. If they liked it, they would offer her the job of finance director.

The plan looked good, and Smoot came aboard and proved to be a bargain. In the first quarter of last year, she was paid $26,099 and took in $24.8 million in donations.

In January 2007, Smoot and Obama began their fundraising efforts by looking over his list of potential donors.

“He asked me what I should do,” Smoot told the Post, “and I said, ‘Start calling. And don’t forget to ask for credit card numbers.’”

The Obama fundraising has generated two story lines.

The first was summarized in the headline of the Times story yesterday: “Small Online Contributions Add Up to Huge Fund-Raising Edge for Obama.”

The Obama online effort - led by Meaghan Burdick, the director of direct marketing - brought in $28 million in January alone, the paper reported, 90 percent coming through donations of $100 or less.

The Obama campaign has highlighted the Internet contributions as proof of the candidate’s grass-roots appeal. The campaign has placed less emphasis on its more conventional and equally successful efforts to raise contributions.

Early on, Smoot’s team put together teams of so-called bundlers, wealthy volunteers who bundle donations from large groups of givers, none of whom could contribute more than $2,300 during the primary season.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that Obama’s bundlers included Penny Pritzker, a wealthy Chicagoan and the chairwoman of his national finance committee, as well as film producers David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Smoot tried to bring bundler Norman Hsu onto the Obama team, but he remained loyal to Clinton. Later, it was revealed that he was a fugitive from the law, a bundler gone bad.

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