Multiple-candidate donations ordinary

WASHINGTON Several thousand political contributors have donated to two or more presidential candidates this year, an overlap in giving that tilts decidedly to the Democrats.

Overall, more than 6,000 donors have combined to give more than $25 million to multiple candidates, with nearly $7 of every $10 going to Democrats, according to an Associated Press analysis of campaign finance reports.

The data reflects both the unprecedented demands on donors to give at this stage of a presidential contest and the lack of clear front-runners in either party.

Some contributors, such as retired college dean Martin Roeder in Tallahassee, Fla., are conflicted. Artist Chris Rifkin of Hingham, Mass., and other donors do have a favorite candidate, but see potential in another.

Yet others are simply members of social, business or political networks where giving is more a function of who asks than who gets.

Of all the candidates running, Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois share the most common donors. More than 1,200 contributors have split about $5 million between the two of them, reinforcing their status as the top fund-raisers in the presidential contest.

"It's not unusual at this stage, when no one knows who the nominee will be, for people who are committed Democrats or committed Republicans to give money to two or more candidates they like best," said Jonathan Krasno, a political scientist and expert on campaign money at Binghamton University in New York. "They'd be happy to vote for either candidate in the general election. So they want them to do well."

With Obama already boasting of 250,000 individual contributors, the relatively small number of multiple donors stand out as a unique class pouring a disproportionate amount of money into the political system.

They include entertainment figures such as Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone, or business leaders such as Warren Buffett and Donald Trump.

Rifkin, a regular Democratic donor over the years, said she is fully behind Clinton. But she also gave Obama $2,300, the maximum allowed by law for the primary contest.

"I think Obama is green, but I think he has lots of potential," she said. "Down the road he would be great. I want to encourage him to stay on top of it."

Roeder, a former professor, dean and administrator at Florida State University, gave Clinton and Obama $250 each and is waiting to decide who will get more of his money.

One of the most high visibility fence-sitters is Buffett, the billionaire investor. He has given Clinton and Obama each $4,600 a combined donation for the primary and the general elections. He hosted a New York fund-raiser for Clinton last month and has promised to hold one for Obama.

Spielberg donated $2,300 each to Clinton, Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Also benefiting from such multiple-candidate donors were Democratic Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, both of whom are seeking the presidency but also hold influential committee assignments in the Senate.

"Democrats are quite happy with our field and there is a sense that we're going to win, so people are hedging their bets," said a former Democratic Party chairman, Don Fowler.

The much smaller pool of common donors shared by Republicans Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain indicate far more targeted giving by Republicans.

Television actor and former Sen. Fred Thompson appears to be attracting donors who have given to other campaigns, but he has not officially entered the race and has not filed campaign finance documents.

Still, a recent Associated Press poll found growing apathy toward the GOP candidates among Republicans, with 23 percent saying they could not or would not support any of the most popular contenders, including Thompson.

Some multiple donors are driven less by allegiance to a candidate than they are to the fundraisers the money "bundlers" who ask for a contribution on behalf of a candidate.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who dropped out of the Republican presidential contest a week ago, said the biggest challenge facing a national candidate is "finding the person who has the courage to call his friend and ask him for money."

"They call and say, 'I know Fred called you for Romney, but I'm calling you for Giuliani,'" Gilmore said, describing a typical transaction. "The guy says, 'OK, out of loyalty to you I'll contribute to your candidate even though I don't know if I like him all that much.'

"If you find 300 of those people, you can run for president."

Such networking could account for some of the crossover donations. The most popular bipartisan pairing? Clinton and former Mayor Giuliani a couple of New Yorkers who tap similar wells of support. Trump, for instance, gave $4,000 to Clinton and $4,600 to Giuliani, money the campaigns must split between the primary and general election.

John Catsimatidis, a top Clinton backer and fund-raiser, gave $2,300 to Giuliani last month. He also gave to Biden and Dodd.

He said his support for Clinton is unwavering, but noted that he has known Dodd and Biden for years. "They're my friends. They asked me for a check. I wrote them a check," he said.

Asked to explain his contribution to Giuliani, Catsimatidis pointed out that he intends to run for New York mayor himself as a Republican, the party he belonged to before he became a fan of President Clinton and his wife.

"Anybody who is pro-New York, I have to support," he said.