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U.S. citizens in Europe give more to Obama

/ Source: The Associated Press

Barack Obama's campaign has received roughly 10 times more money from declared U.S. donors living in Germany, France and Britain than his Republican rival, reflecting his popularity in Europe as he makes his first tour of the continent as the presumed Democratic nominee.

Federal Election Commission reports show Obama has raised at least $1 million from donors who identify themselves as Americans living in Great Britain, Germany and France, while John McCain has taken in at least $150,000.

Some donors say the huge disparity, which also exists in overall funding raising in which Obama has raked in $338 million to $126.3 million for McCain, is more about disliking Bush and the prospect of another Republican succeeding him than it is an affection for Obama.

"I contributed because of the absolutely appalling performance of the Bush administration during the last eight years," said Eileen Taylor, a chief operating officer for Deutsche Bank in London.

Only U.S. citizens can contribute
She made two $2,300 donations, the maximum allowed, and is also working on a voter registration drive to make it easier for Americans abroad to cast ballots in the November election.

"We're actively signing people up to vote," she said. "Democrats Abroad is working with a lot of companies to set up voter registration and absentee ballots. The key message is that it's not about the money. A lot of people are putting emotional energy into this campaign."

Only U.S. citizens are permitted to contribute to presidential campaigns. The European totals include contributions of $200 or more from each individual as election laws do not require campaigns to itemize lesser amounts. So it's possible Obama has received additional money from smaller donors. McCain, however, publishes all contributions, even amounts smaller than $200.

While Bush is unpopular at home, hostility to the outgoing president appears to be much deeper among expatriate donors than the general population in the United States. Obama's many backers in Europe say they are motivated by a yearning for America to once again be viewed with respect by the rest of the world.

Gerald Wood, an American living in Germany, said he contributed $1,000 to Obama because he wants to see America's reputation restored after it "worsened" during the Bush years.

"For me Barack Obama is the one who can improve America's image," he said, comparing the youthful candidate to John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. "I want more bipartisanship, to give the land a vision."

The amounts raised in Europe are not terribly significant in the costly White House race, but the disparity between the two candidates underscores the Democratic candidate's appeal on a continent where so-called Obamamania seems to have taken hold of expatriates and Europeans alike.

New tools of fundraising
It also may reflect the Obama campaign's adroit use of the Internet as a prime fundraising tool while the McCain camp was for a long time saddled with a Web site that made it difficult for Americans abroad to contribute.

Patricia Toner, a retired IBM employee who lives in southern France, said she gave a total of $2,000 to Obama's campaign after receiving a mass e-mail from a friend during the primary season that contained a link to the candidate's Web site.

"I'm a retired information technology professional and I found their Web site so well crafted," she said.

Mary Jo Jacobi, a Republican who was an adviser to President Reagan and the first President Bush, conceded that Obama had a big advantage over McCain in Internet campaigning.

"A lot of McCain backers were saying it was very hard or impossible to donate over the Web site," she said. "Obama made it easy. Obama has been much more sophisticated about Internet usage, and when you live overseas that's the easiest way to contribute."

She also acknowledged Obama's message of change had drawn a positive response among Americans abroad, pointing out that people who uproot themselves to work overseas are by nature receptive to change. An estimated quarter of a million Americans live in Britain alone.

In London, many of Obama's donors are members of London's high-flying financial and legal elite, and also include information technology executives, architects and a celebrity restaurateur.

It has become fashionable to support him ever since Elisabeth Murdoch, the daughter of newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch, hosted a high profile fundraiser for Obama in April.

Corporate donors
The occupations listed on the FEC reports are impressive: lawyers, corporate vice presidents and chief executives are common.

The Obama list includes corporate luminaries like Joanna Shields, the chief executive officer of the popular Bebo social networking site; Ruth Rogers, co-founder of the exclusive River Cafe and wife of celebrated architect Richard Rogers; David Giampaolo, chief executive officer of the private equity investment company Pi Capital; John Graham, a director of the investment firm Rogge Global Partners; and Cheryl Solomon, general counsel for The Gucci Group.

Each donor is permitted to give a maximum of $2,300 for each election, but since the primaries are regarded as a separate election, a person can make two separate donations of $2,300 before the general election in November. While some gave the maximum, others made contributions in the $10 and $25 range.

McCain also enjoyed support from a number of investment bankers and international banking executives, but he received donations from only 63 individuals in Britain while Obama has about 600 donors.

McCain did receive money from Charles Thompson, with Saudi Petroleum Overseas, and Tom Fenton, a former CBS News correspondent who has long been a fixture on the London journalistic scene.

Thompson refused to discuss his contribution. Fenton, an independent, paid $1,000 to attend a McCain lunch in London so he could sit with the candidate and judge him up close. He said he may also contribute to the Obama campaign as well.