Roland Martin: Oprah could be a kingmaker

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Hat Tip: By Roland S. Martin
CNN Contributor

(CNN) — It’s big news that the goddess of talk, Oprah Winfrey, is throwing a huge shindig for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama at her California estate that is expected to bring in $3 million.

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Oprah Winfrey should go all out in her support for Sen. Barack Obama, says Roland S. Martin.

That is more than what Hollywood honchos Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and others raised in separate fundraisers for Obama and his chief rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

No one knows for sure what the effect will be with Oprah backing Obama because she has never thrown her full support behind a political candidate.

The Washington Post made it plain as to her influence on the general public, courtesy of her massive media platform: “the television program that reaches 8.4 million viewers each weekday afternoon, according to the most recent Nielsen numbers. Her Web site reaches 2.3 unique viewers each month, ‘O, the Oprah Magazine,’ has a circulation of 2 million, she circulates a weekly newsletter to 420,000 fans and 360,000 people have subscribed to her Web site for daily ‘Oprah Alerts’ by e-mail.”

Although Oprah is a billionaire, by law, all she can contribute to the Obama campaign is $4,600 — $2,300 for the primary, and if he wins the nomination, he can use the other $2,300 for the general election campaign. Video Watch analysts talk about Winfrey’s influence »

On CNN’s “Larry King Live,” she said that her support is bigger than any check she could write.

Not quite.

Although The Post reported that Oprah is in talks with the Obama campaign about taking an active role — appearing at rallies or cutting campaign commercials — she could instead choose to launch her own 527 political group that wouldn’t have any spending restrictions.

Imagine this scenario: Oprah chooses to create the “O for Obama” 527 group. She then seeds it with $5 million, and plans a series of radio and TV ads touting Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Arizona.

In Iowa, she might shoot a commercial in a cornfield. In New Hampshire, the setting might be outside the state capitol. How about the Geechee islands in South Carolina? And for Arizona, the infamous — only because of its sheriff — jail in Maricopa County.

She could tailor each ad for residents of that state, and flood the airwaves as Obama is doing the same.

Now, the laws says the 527s can’t coordinate their messages with the campaign, and there are other restrictions. But it could be a huge boost to a campaign lagging Clinton in national polls.

You don’t think they matter? Ask Sen. John Kerry. The Swift Boat Veterans launched a 527 group that developed devastating ads that helped derail his message, and the campaign.

Oprah may get some heat for trying to buy the election, but many rich benefactors have used their money for partisan purposes.

The talk show diva has been on record that Obama is the first, and likely last, candidate she publicly backs. If that’s the case, why not simply go all out?

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Juanita Bynum files for divorce

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Teach Me How to Love You

Hat Tip: by D. Aileen Dodd, S.A. Reid, Atlanta Journal Constitution

National evangelist Juanita Bynum apparently has filed for divorce, more than two weeks after the alleged attack by her husband, Bishop Thomas Weeks III.

A relative on Thursday said that Bynum has filed for divorce but court records were not available early Thursday. Bynum’s publicist, Amy Malone, would not comment.

the alleged beating by Weeks, the pastor and co-founder of Global Destiny Ministries in metro Atlanta.

Bynum called a press conference on Tuesday, a few hours before she hosted an international Christian talk show on Trinity Broadcasting Network. She appeared poised and soft-spoken before news cameras. She wore her wedding ring on her right hand. The pastor has been separated from her husband for more than three months.

Calling herself “the new face of domestic violence,” Bynum is expected to be part of an A-list crowd Saturday at a fund-raiser for Barack Obama’s presidential bid.

The party is being hosted by media magnate Oprah Winfrey at her 42-acre estate in California.

Bynum is part of a guest list that includes celebrities, politicians and other news makers.

“She received an invitation to attend the event at Oprah’s home,” said Malone. Bynum is hoping to talk directly with Obama or members of his presidential campaign team about national domestic violence concerns.

Weeks’ lawyer, Louis Tesser, has said that Weeks “hopes he doesn’t wind up getting a divorce.” On Wednesday, Weeks broke his silence for the first time since the alleged Aug. 21 domestic violence incident by issuing a written statement through his lawyers.

In it, Weeks cautioned against a rush to judgment and said he would share his version of what happened that night at the appropriate time.

Bynum was allegedly beaten, choked, and stomped to the ground in an attack. Weeks was charged with felony aggravated assault, felony terroristic threats and two counts of simple battery in connection to the incident.

Weeks’ appearance in Fulton County Superior Court originally set for Friday has been postponed indefinitely. The case has been reassigned to a different judge. He could face up to 27 years in jail if convicted.

A final word on the Debate

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Having won both High School and College Student Government elections, I am struck by the unoriginal observation that running for President these days bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the shallow preening and empty symbolism employed by children trying to impress and influence each other.   

The so-called mainstream press has labeled Hillary and Barack the cool kids to be admired and emulated because they possess magical leadership qualities that are nothing more than cynical pronouncements about how much money they’ve raised. 

Eight years ago, we were right where we are now and the belated love the press corps has found for Al Gore after five years of the mess in Mesopotamia was non-existent.   Eight years ago, former Senator Bill Bradley was keeping pace with Al Gore’s fundraising.  Eight years ago, Bill Bradley was speaking with true candor about a great many issues with a forthrightness altogether lacking in our distinguished former Vice President.  Bradley twisted a rhetorical knife in Al Gore’s gut at Iowa’s Black and Brown forum over racial profiling.  He made the point that Al Gore had the power to get Clinton to act in a way nobody else could.   

Bill Bradley spoke about the racial divide and the racial disparities in our nation with an eloquence and conviction that Gore didn’t.  None of it mattered in the end.  Gore out organized Bradley and wiped the floor with him on Super Tuesday, blowing him away in a front loaded calendar from coast to coast.  That’s what Hillary is fixing to do with the “Safe Negro” formerly known as Barack Obama.   

The game is rigged for the organization candidate and Hillary is the organization candidate.  The stumblebum, tone-deaf days of the listening tour are over. Hillary got her shit together and she’s kept it together. There won’t be any mistakes from here on out. It’s one thing to speak to an advanced crowd of 10 or 20 thousand, its another to turn the same folk out to vote for you.  That’s the difference between a movement and a machine.  Hillary has a machine and it’s programmed to crush Obama’s aspirations like a steamroller and to leave him broken and alone licking his wounds.  

The Clintons have never and will never lose a national election-period.  It is not going to happen.  Barack Obama will not be asked to join Mrs. Clinton’s ticket no matter what Mr. Bruce and others have speculated.  I think it will cause her profound problems in the black electorate. It will if we haven’t all fallen asleep. It should because most of us are in the profound grip of the delusion that the President is something other than the chief guardian of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. A black man cannot flip that script no matter what magical powers we believe him to wield. The genius of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy is that we are all its servants, no matter how we resist.

CNN Debate Tonight

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The first of six officially sanctioned Democratic debates will be held tonight with CNN and Youtube as co-sponsors.  Tonight’s debate will be availble in its entirety on this space as soon as Youtube makes it available and I can put it up.  

The pundit class has been chattering actively that its put up or shut up time for Barack Obama.  Senator Clinton continues to solidify her poll numbers even as Obama outraises her.   She, however, has plenty of cash to end his Presidential aspirations and enough street cred with African American women to prevent him from solidifying and expanding his base with black folks.  Mama is perfectly positioned to take her place as the head of the Clintonista’s in this era of dynastic politics.

It would take a pretty big applause line and counterattack on Obama’s part, and a weak comeback on Hillary’s, to make this debate seem more than routine.   I’m not looking for any surprises.   Debate time commences in less than one hour.  Stay tuned here for a re-cap.

UPDATE: the debate has been lively and intersting. The questions sent in via Youtube have been excellent.  From Reparations to Iraq, from Same-Sex marriage to Darfur, they have truly been great.  Gravel drew some blood from Obama pointedly revealing the fact that despite Obama’s good government spiel, he has the CEO of foreign owned UBS bank bundling contributions for him.

Obama also dodged the reparations question deftly as did Edwards-Kucinich came out for it strongly.   Edwards stumbled on the same-sex marriage question by a North Carolina minister and they had the minister in the audience do a follow up and said that he didn’t really answer.

Senator Gravel’s point about following the money in this race is important and it says more about the state of our democracy than we think.  In 2008, a candidate willing to raise money under federal campaign finance guidelines to receive matching funds cannot win the Presidency.  The state of our Union is rotting from the inside out and an honest candidate willing to rise or fall by trusting the people cannot be elected.

New California PAC launched to promote Obama

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The website for Vote Hope 2008 has the look and feel of Barack Obama's official page, but the group is a political action committee trying to garner votes for Obama in California.

WASHINGTON — The website has the look and feel of Barack Obama’s official page, and the headline says it all: “Bank it for Barack.” The site asks for contributions of up to $5,000 per person to help the Illinois Democrat win the crucial state of California.

The effort employs a tactic that could transform the way campaign-related money is collected and spent in presidential campaigns .

The group sponsoring the Web page is not Obama’s campaign, but an independent political action committee called Vote Hope 2008, which says that its goal is to help Obama become president and that it will spend $2 million to get out the vote for him.

Federal law prohibits political action committees, or PACs, from spending more than $5,000 in support of a candidate.

But Vote Hope’s founders argue that this restriction does not apply to their group because they do not plan to coordinate their spending with Obama’s campaign. Thus, there’s no limit to what they can spend promoting him, they said. What’s more, the group said contributors who have given the maximum $2,300 individual do nation to Obama’s campaign can give $5,000 to Vote Hope 2008, the maximum individual donation to a PAC.

Vote Hope then would spend these donations promoting Obama, giving donors a way to nearly triple their maximum contribution to Obama’s cause. The implications are potentially dramatic, according to campaign finance specialists, especially if other PACs follow Vote Hope’s example for Obama or other candidates.

“I haven’t seen another one like this,” said Kent Cooper, a former Federal Election Commission official and co founder of PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan group that tracks money and politics. If the group is able to raise money successfully, it could be copied by others and that in turn “would create a wide new avenue for campaign-related cash.”

The pro-Obama PAC was set up by a group of liberal activists, including Steve Phillips, a former president of the San Francisco Board of Education and son-in-law of Herb and Marion Sandler, who are high-profile backers of Democrats.

Bill Burton, Obama campaign spokesman, when asked about the effort, distanced the campaign from Vote Hope 2008, saying: “We appreciate the tremendous grass roots. But if people want to help out our campaign, we prefer they would do it directly through our campaign.”

The creators of Vote Hope consider themselves pioneers, working to find a way to elect Obama in a state that they say will be crucial for Obama but that has not received as much attention as early-voting states such as New Hampshire, which has a tentative primary date of Jan. 22.

California has moved its primary to Feb. 5, but the state is so expensive for campaigns that many candidates are putting off major expenditures there. That is where Vote Hope sees its opening: It wants to tap donors who have already given the maximum to Obama’s campaign in order to raise more money to help the senator win in California.

“The combination of unbridled grass-roots volunteer energy and an unprecedented number of maxed-out donors this early in the calendar makes something like Vote Hope possible in states that are expensive to organize and have a large donor base,” said Vote Hope spokeswoman Jenifer Fernandez Ancona.

She said the group will help elect Obama by working to “identify infrequent voters in communities of color and young people in California” and getting them to vote. Vote Hope said campaign finance laws allow a PAC to solicit individual donations of up to $5,000 and then to spend unlimited funds on Obama as long as certain conditions are met.

The rules say that donors to PACs cannot “give with the knowledge that a substantial portion will be contributed to, or expended on behalf of, that candidate.” The same rule says, however, that such donations are permissible if donors don’t retain control over how the money is spent.

Vote Hope maintains that because its donors can’t specify how their money will be spent, these contributions to the PAC are legal. “Everything Vote Hope is doing is above board and permissible under the law,” said Vote Hope’s lawyer, Joseph M. Birkenstock, who served from 1998 to 2003 as chief counsel for the Democratic National Committee.

The Globe interviewed a number of specialists in campaign finance who said they could think of no other example of a major PAC being set up specifically to work for the election of a candidate during a presidential primary, aside from PACs set up to draft candidates or established by the politicians for themselves.

“It is a novel idea that hasn’t been utilized in this fashion before that I’m aware of at the presidential level,” said Keith Davis of Huckaby Davis Lisker, a firm that works with Republican campaigns on compliance with federal election law.

“If it works, then, obviously, there will be a lot of people who try to do the same thing . . . in both parties,” he said. “The same structure could be used for House and Senate campaigns.”

Davis and other specialists said a key question is whether enough people who have contributed the maximum $2,300 to Obama’s campaign will also want to contribute $5,000 to Vote Hope for the organization to meet its $2 million goal. Ancona said the group has raised $108,000, and “there are more than enough donors in California who are inspired by Vote Hope’s strategy to get us” to $2 million.

Separately, Vote Hope has set up what is known as a 527 organization, which can collect unlimited funds from individuals but is not allowed to support a candidate directly. Both Vote Hope groups have the same name, which has led to some confusion, including reports that a few wealthy individuals are contributing large amounts to a Vote Hope 527 formed to elect Obama.

In fact, the organizers said, only the PAC will work explicitly for an Obama victory by getting Californians to register and vote by mail starting Jan. 9 , and have 500,000 Obama votes “in the bank” by the primary on Feb. 5.

Vote Hope is distinct from PACs set up by many candidates. For example, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney established his federal Commonwealth PAC and state affiliates prior to announcing his candidacy. He used those PACs to travel and support other candidates. Funds from such PACs cannot be transferred to Romney’s campaign.

According to the Romney campaign, there does not appear to be an independent PAC working on behalf of Romney in the way that Vote Hope is helping Obama. But campaign specialists said that could change quickly if Vote Hope’s tactic proves viable. 

Oprah to host Obama fundraiser

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Hat tip: Huffington Post/Los Angeles Times-photo courtesy of AP

Invitations have been sent out for what promises to be a must-attend event for much of California’s Democratic elite, particularly those in the entertainment industry: a Sept. 8 fundraiser for Barack Obama at Oprah Winfrey’s home in the Santa Barbara area.

In the best tradition of Hollywood, the e-mail touting the afternoon gathering doesn’t mince words, promoting it as no less than “the most exciting Barack Obama event of the year anywhere …” And the invite urges haste in responding, saying: “Please get back to us soon before it sells out.”

Getting in the door costs $2,300 — the maximum individual contribution for the primary season. But, as is usually the case at such high-profile shindigs, there are incentives to gain a little extra face-time with the candidate.

Those who can tap friends and relatives for contributions to Obama’s presidential campaign that total at least $25,000 gain entree to a VIP reception; those responsible for at least $50,000 in donations make the cut for a VIP dinner.

The workers at the Santa Barbara airport best rest up before the fundraiser; we’re guessing the tarmac there is going to be packed with private jets.

As The Times’ Tina Daunt wrote in early June, Hillary Clinton — bolstered by Steven Spielberg’s decision to endorse her presidential candidacy — appeared to have beat back an early challenge from Obama for supremacy among the Hollywood crowd. But the Oprah event signals that the Obama camp is not going to cede ground without a fight, which Daunt will report on in Wednesday’s print edition.

Oprah endorsed Obama, who she got to know through their mutual home bases in Chicago, back in the spring — the first time she had ever officially embraced a White House contender. At the time, she told CNN’s Larry King, “I haven’t done it in the past because … I didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, ‘I believe in this person.’ ”

Obama and Clinton report over $ 30 million in campaign coffers

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HAT TIP: By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press 

Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton ended the first half of the year with more than $30 million each for the presidential primaries, a formidable financial performance for the two leading Democratic White House contenders.As the two rivals basked in money, Republican John McCain’s presidential campaign reported spending more than it raised from April through June, leaving him financially strapped with $3.2 million cash on hand and a $1.8 million debt.

Those contrasting financial pictures emerged Sunday from quarterly financial reports filed by the campaigns with the Federal Election Commission. Obama reported having about $34 million in primary cash on hand; Clinton reported $33 million. Obama had an edge on money owed by the campaign; he reported less than $1 million in debts and Clinton reported $3 million.Obama led in fundraising for the period covering April though June, raising $32 million for the primary election and nearly $800,000 for the general election.Clinton raised about $21.5 million for the primary and $5.6 million for the general election, her campaign said. Neither candidate can use the general election money unless he or she wins the nomination.John Edwards, the Democrat closest to the two fundraising leaders, reported having $12 million in the bank for the primary.

Hindered by unpopular stands on the war and on immigration, McCain raised $11.26 million in the second quarter, short of his first quarter donations. He spent $13 million. Overall, McCain has raised $25 million so far in his campaign and spent $22 million.

The Arizona senator upended his campaign organization last week as his financial straits became apparent. His campaign manager, Terry Nelson, left and his longtime strategist, John Weaver, resigned. The repercussions caused changes down the chain of command. While his financial straits have been known for more than a week, the reports show that McCain spent more on staff than either of his better financed rivals. McCain’s payroll grew after the first quarter, despite initial cutbacks. Overall, McCain payroll was nearly $3.6 million for the year so far.

Obama enters the third quarter with more fundraising momentum than Clinton. Not only has he aggressively gone after money, he has also worked to expand his donor base. His efforts have netted him more than 250,000 donors for the year. Overall, he has raised nearly $59 million, with all but about $1.7 million devoted to the primary election.

Despite his vaunted base of small donors, Obama is a favorite among employees of some of the nation’s largest investment banks and hedge funds. One of them, Kenneth C. Griffin, president of Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel Investment Group, gave Obama $4,600 this quarter, the maximum allowed. Other Citadel employees gave him $147,550.

Lehman Brothers employees gave Obama $160,760 this quarter; Goldman Sachs, $103,550; and JP Morgan Chase, $101,950. About half of Obama’s fundraising total for the year comes from about 10,000 donors who have given him the maximum donation.

New York Sen. Clinton has raised $53 million, with $12.6 million of that usable only in the general election. Clinton boosted her revenue in the first quarter by transferring $10 million into her campaign from her Senate election account.

The Clinton campaign reported spending $12.2 million.

Obama dramatically increased the size of his staff in the second quarter. His payroll went from less than $1 million in the first three months to $3.2 million in the second quarter. The campaign has hired more than 100 staffers and has 29 field offices in Iowa and six in New Hampshire.

Obama’s campaign paid nearly $3 million for travel during the quarter and spent about $1.3 million in telemarketing, one of its top single expenses.

Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina and 2004 vice presidential nominee, raised about $8.8 million for the primary from April through June; he also raised $250,000 for the general election, money he can’t use unless he becomes the Democratic nominee.

Overall, Edwards has raised $21.8 million for the primary and $1.3 million for the general election. While trailing Obama and Clinton, Edwards retained his place ahead of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

Dodd reported raising nearly $3.3 million with nearly $6.4 million in the bank. For the year, Dodd has total receipts of $12.1 million, which includes a $4.7 million transfer from his Senate campaign account. Richardson on Saturday reported raising $7 million in the second quarter and having a similar amount in the bank.

Among Republicans filing Sunday, Ron Paul, the Texas congressman running a long-shot campaign, reported raising nearly $2.4 million from April through June and ended the quarter with a similar amount in the bank.

The total is a remarkable showing for Paul, putting him in a better financial position — with less cash on hand but no debt — than McCain. Paul still barely registers in public opinion polls and raised far less than McCain or the other leading Republicans. But his libertarian views and opposition to the war in Iraq have lit a fire among nontraditional contributors, particularly on the Internet.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who are leading the Republican field in money and in public opinion polls, reported their finances on Friday. Romney had $12.1 million cash on hand and has lent his campaign nearly $9 million since the beginning of the year. Giuliani reported $14.6 million in the bank for the primary election.

Republican presidential candidates filing second quarter reports Sunday:

_Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas raised $1.4 million, slightly more than his campaign brought in during the previous quarter. The candidate reported having $460,236 in the bank.

_Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee raised $764,000 and had $437,000 cash on hand at the end of last month.

_Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson raised $461,000. He reported nearly $122,000 cash on hand, but also listed debts and obligations of more than $127,000.

_Rep. Duncan Hunter of California raised $806,000 and had $213,000 cash on hand.

Lackluster performance in the second quarter already caused one Republican candidate to quit the race. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore announced Saturday he was withdrawing. On Sunday he reported $62,000 cash on hand and $129,000 in debts and obligations.