As Democrats Reclaimed Power, Nemazee Was Key Fundraiser


Hassan Nemazee may not be a household name. But as Democrats returned to power over the last few election cycles, the New York financier — who yesterday was charged with running a $292 million Ponzi scheme — has been among the most important players in drumming up the campaign funds that have enabled that success.

Let’s start with the 2004 cycle. Nemazee had been a top fundraiser for the Clintons in the 1990s, but he appears to have courted John Kerry since at least 2002. By January 2004, he was described in news reports (via Nexis) as “one of Kerry’s chief fundraisers.” Subsequent reports from that year describe him as Kerry’s “New York City finance chair.”But Nemazee’s pull with the Kerry campaign appears to have gone beyond money. In January 2004, Donald Fowler, the chair of the South Carolina Democratic party was concerned that Kerry wasn’t spending enough time in the state. As the New York Times reported (via Nexis): “Among those he called was Hassan Nemazee, a New York financier and one of Senator Kerry’s chief fund-raisers. In less than an hour, Mr. Fowler said, he received a call from Mary Beth Cahill, Mr. Kerry’s national campaign manager, assuring him that Mr. Kerry intended to make a major effort in this state…”

In the 2006 cycle, Nemazee would play an even more prominent role. A December 2005, New York magazine article described him as “chief fund-raiser for Chuck Schumer’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.” That was the cycle, of course, that Democrats ended up surprising most political observers by retaking the Senate — fueled by a legendary fund-raising haul for which Schumer received credit.

But even while running that operation, Nemazee was looking ahead to 2008. Throughout 2006, he hosted dinners at his Park Avenue apartment for prospective presidential candidates and donors. There were reportedly separate dinners for Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Tom Vilsack, Joe Biden and Mark Warner, the last involving home-cooked Chinese food.

By 2008, Nemazee had thrown in his lot with Clinton, and was named a national finance chair. A Business Week story from March of that year (via Nexis) succinctly described his role:

As a national finance chair for Senator Hillary Clinton’s [D-N.Y.] Presidential campaign, Hassan Nemazee has to wrangle the biggest fund-raisers, people who can bring in $250,000 or more in contributions from their networks of contacts. That means Nemazee plans high-level dinners at which Senator Clinton or her husband, the former President, meet and greet big-dollar contributors.

Again, Nemazee’s role wasn’t limited to money. At an April meeting between donors and DNC chair Howard Dean, Nemazee reportedly confronted Dean about how to resolve the disputed Florida and Michigan primaries. ”I said to him, ‘It seems to me that you as the chair need to exert some leadership and produce some resolution to this problem,”’ Nemazee told the Times (via Nexis).

As Clinton’s campaign wound down in down in May and June of that year, Nemazee played a major role in shepherding reluctant Clinton donors into the Obama camp. And, during the delicate negotiations which brought the Clinton campaign to a close, he gave frequent interviews in which he appeared to speak for the campaign’s fundraising team. “The Obama campaign has reached out to the Clinton people,” Nemazee told the AP (via Nexis) in June. “I think this is a process that is being undertaken and hopefully we will be in a position to assimilate the Clinton fundraising operation and the Obama fundraising operation together in the near future.”

Nemazee even appeared to be angling to boost Clinton’s vice presidential hopes, telling the Times (via Nexis): ”It would be important how much Senator Obama and his top advisers in Chicago reached out, and how welcome our people felt.”

By September, Nemazee was aggressively working the phones for Obama, planning a dinner at his apartment targeted at Clinton donors. In one two week stretch, he reportedly raised over $400,000. After Obama was elected, Nemazee raised over $50,000 for the president-elect’s inauguration gala.

In their announcement of the indictment yesterday, federal prosecutors claimed Nemazee had used the proceeds of his alleged fraud “to make donations to the election campaigns of federal, state, and local candidates.”