WASHINGTON Democratic nominee-in-waiting Barack Obama is sharing one his most valuable assets his top fundraisers with former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton to help her pay off her debt, the latest effort to heal the wounds of a bruising primary campaign.
Obama on Tuesday asked his finance team to help Clinton pay back at least $10 million from her failed presidential campaign, setting the stage for joint appearances by the two former rivals later in the week.
In a teleconference with his top fundraisers, Obama asked them to do what they could to help Clinton, according to two Democrats familiar with the call. A campaign spokesman confirmed that Obama had asked them to help the former first lady.
"Some of our donors have asked and Barack said if they have the ability to raise or give money to help on debt, we encourage them to do so," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Obama's green light to his money bundlers came two days before he and Clinton were scheduled to meet in Washington with some of her top fundraisers in a show of unity after their bruising contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. On Friday, the two planned to campaign together in New Hampshire.
Obama clinched the nomination earlier this month; Clinton suspended her campaign and endorsed him.
The former first lady reported a $22.5 million debt at the end of May, more than half of which was a personal loan to her presidential campaign. Clinton, in a call to her top fundraisers last week, said she would concentrate on paying off money owed to vendors, not her personal loans.
She made the same pitch in a fundraising e-mail to supporters Wednesday, saying she wouldn't use their money to repay herself.
"As you know, I had to loan money to my campaign at critical moments," Clinton wrote. "I'm not asking anyone's help paying that back. That was my investment and my commitment because I believe so deeply in our cause."
Obama's finance team has expanded since he secured the nomination earlier this month, providing a broad base of potential assistance to Clinton. At least 200 fundraisers attended the campaign's national finance meeting in Chicago last week. Scores were unable to attend, one participant said.
In urging his top fundraisers to help Clinton, Obama was counting on them to seek out their pool of donors to raise the money in large increments. Donors who have not contributed to Clinton's campaign could give up to $2,300 to help her pay off her debts.
It remained to be seen whether Obama would make a similar appeal to his Internet donors, a vast network of small-dollar contributors who helped Obama shatter fundraising records during the primary contests. As of the end of May, Obama had raised more than $287 million.
Clinton donors had been making a clear case to Obama that he needed to use his fundraising resources to help her get out of the red. Her national finance co-chair, Hassan Nemazee, told The Associated Press last week that Clinton would be freer to campaign for Obama and raise money for him if she did not have to concentrate on retiring her debt.
Moreover, Nemazee said, it would be easier for Clinton fundraisers who wanted to help Obama to be able to tell former Clinton donors, "Look what Senator Obama has done for Senator Clinton."
At least one Obama supporter said that message was heard, prompting Obama's entreaty to his finance team on Tuesday.