Gov. Chris Christie is cashing in donations from top Democratic fundraisers and other traditionally liberal donors across the country, even nabbing the support of a handful of rainmakers aligned with President Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Star-Ledger review of state and federal records shows.
The checks are flying into the Republican governor’s war chest from all sorts of unlikely places – the hedge fund run by liberal billionaire George Soros, for example, and the politically progressive halls of the University of California, Berkeley.
The nascent support from Democratic donors is an early sign of Christie’s fundraising prowess in a potential run for the White House in 2016, experts and Democratic donors said, and dovetails with recent polls showing him gaining popularity nationally among Democrats and independents.
Christie’s partnership with New Jersey Democratic leaders and his warm relationship with Obama after Hurricane Sandy could be enticing donors who don’t often give to GOP candidates, even if they are closer ideologically to Democrat Barbara Buono, Christie’s lesser-known challenger, political scientists and Democratic fundraisers say.
“While I do not agree with his stance on every issue, he is one of the best political leaders I have talked to in a long time,” said Ken Rosen, a UC-Berkeley professor who cut a $3,800 check to Christie after chatting with him at two events. “He is willing to take on tough issues such as pension reform, education reform, mental-health issues, even if his views are not politically correct.”
The Star-Ledger review found:
• Five executives at Soros Fund Management have chipped in a combined $19,000 to the governor’s re-election campaign, state records show. The donor roll includes Soros’ protégé and chief investment officer, Scott Bessent, who tends to fund liberal Democrats, and Sender Cohen, a partner at the hedge fund who more often favors Republicans.
• John Doerr, a top Democratic fundraiser and venture capitalist in California, sent Christie the maximum $3,800 donation for the Republican primary this year. So did his wife. Federal records show the couple has given more than $1.2 million to national Democrats since 1997.
• Tim Mullen, a Chicago investor who gave more than $100,000 to Emanuel’s campaign for mayor in 2011 and bundled from $200,000 to $500,000 for Obama in 2008, has also sent Christie a maximum donation, as has his wife Alice. Mullen was already a Christie donor in 2009, state records show.
“We’re not surprised,” said Bill Palatucci, Christie’s campaign chairman and a top adviser. “There’s something for everybody to want to support, whether it’s education reform or returning financial sanity to New Jersey or his leadership in rebuilding the Shore.”
Palatucci declined to discuss the campaign’s fundraising strategy, but said Christie has done plenty to earn the backing of Democrats.
To date, Christie has collected more than $6.6 million, Palatucci said. Buono, a state senator from Middlesex County, has brought in $2.3 million, according to her latest campaign finance report. On both sides, the money has mostly been spent on television ads in the expensive New York and Philadelphia markets that blanket New Jersey.
Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, said much of Christie’s Democratic support stems from a recent fundraiser in California with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. If those West Coast donors knew more about Christie’s conservative record inside the Statehouse – vetoing a same-sex marriage bill and minimum-wage increase, for example – they might not be so eager to open their wallets, she said.
“These are exactly the type of donors (Buono) would need in order to put a chink in Christie’s armor,” Harrison said. “For people who do not live in the state of New Jersey, Christie’s bipartisan rhetoric is wildly appealing, particularly for those who don’t scratch beneath the surface.”
But Christie is also poaching some of New Jersey’s registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters, records show. Michael Granoff, a businessman who worked on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, is a top Christie donor this year. So are Ken and Shoshana Dichter, a Livingston couple who racked up $143,000 in donations to federal Democratic candidates before giving to Christie.
A longtime Democratic fundraiser in New Jersey, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to alienate Buono, said Buono has made few efforts to enlist New Jersey’s Democratic fundraising gurus and party bosses. Meanwhile, Christie is well-known across the country and just last week played arcade games with Obama on the Jersey Shore before a national audience, he added. “It is hard to run against Christie and that’s why stronger people aren’t running,” he said.
Buono’s campaign pointed out that Mullen and some of the Soros hedge fund donors have also given to Republicans, but otherwise declined to comment. Mullen and his wife have given more than $600,000 to federal and local Democrats since 1997, and $22,600 to Republicans, according to Federal Election Commission and Illinois records.
Harrison said Christie’s support from Democratic donors cuts both ways. The conservative wing of the GOP, already unhappy with Christie because of his friendly appearances with Obama, may not look kindly on it. On the other hand, money talks in presidential politics. “(For) many Republicans who haven’t had a victory since George W. Bush in 2004, that’s enormously tantalizing,” she said.