He backs Clinton; her backers help him

Times Staff Writer

Shortly after endorsing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack received nearly $90,000 in donations to his defunct presidential campaign from some of Clinton’s major backers, campaign finance reports show.

The donations, disclosed in Federal Election Commission filings over the weekend, came from Clinton fundraising bastions of New York, California, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

None came from Iowa, where Vilsack served two terms as governor.

Vilsack, unable to raise the tens of millions needed to wage a serious presidential campaign, withdrew from the Democratic race in February. In a finance report filed Sunday covering the first half of the year, Vilsack disclosed that he had $2,962 in cash and a leftover debt of $148,000.


Once he dropped out, Democratic candidates came courting, hoping he could help them win the important early caucus state. In March he endorsed Clinton, and his Democratic organization is viewed as key to her chance of winning in Iowa six months from now.

In May and June, at least 45 Clinton donors contributed $87,000 to Vilsack’s presidential campaign account. Vilsack used part of the money to repay himself $55,000, part of a personal loan he had given to his campaign. He paid other bills as well.

Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said that Clinton had made it clear early “we were going to help retire the debt” but that Clinton did not receive Vilsack’s endorsement because of any offer or deal.

“The Clintons and Gov. Vilsack have a long history,” Singer said. “She offered to do whatever she could to help him close out his campaign.”

Vilsack spokeswoman Kiki McClean said the former governor “endorsed Sen. Clinton because he believes she is the best person to be president.” She said “it’s not surprising” that Democratic donors would back Clinton and Vilsack.

San Jose State University political science professor Larry N. Gerston, noting that such arrangements were not unusual, called it “a pretty good investment by Hillary Clinton,” given Vilsack’s standing among Iowa Democrats.


“He is a ‘name’ there, and that is a wide-open race,” Gerston said. “Is this anything new? It is not. Far be it from me to say it is wrong, because there are few wrongs. There are far more opportunities than there are wrongs.”

Donors who gave the maximum allowable donation of $2,300 to Vilsack include San Francisco Democrats Susie Tompkins Buell and Mark Buell, who are longtime Clinton backers and have been the hosts of at least one fundraiser for Clinton this year.

Sacramento Democrat Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalak held a fundraiser for Clinton in May. She was one of half a dozen members of her family who each gave $2,300 to Vilsack.

The $87,000 that Vilsack received is minuscule compared with the $27 million that Clinton raised in the second quarter. As much as that was, she trailed her chief rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who raised $34 million.

A review of Clinton’s campaign finance statement shows she continued to focus her fundraising in New York, where she raised almost $7 million, and California, where she raised almost $4 million.

After staying clear of Illinois at the start of the year, she ventured to the state where she was born last month, and raised $1.3 million, her campaign finance report shows.

Obama raised $3.3 million in Illinois.

Clinton’s major donors included partners at national law firms such as DLA Piper, who gave her $190,000; Kirkland & Ellis, who gave her $111,200; and Skadden Arps, who donated $89,800.


Employees of Cablevision chipped in $93,600.

Among her notable donors, she received $2,300 from Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President Kennedy, and from News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, the mogul who has reached a tentative agreement to buy the Wall Street Journal.

Altogether, Clinton took in $51,000 from employees of Murdoch’s empire, including 20th Century Fox. Obama received $56,000 from Fox employees.

Times researcher Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.