Pulse: Dialing for Dollars

Like a lot of high-powered Philadelphia law firms, Wolf Block is no stranger to the intersection of law and high-stakes political fundraising. But this year may mark the first time a campaign has been waged inside the firm.

They’re separated by two floors in tony offices at 1650 Arch, but Wolf Block partners Alan Kessler and Mark Alderman might as well be in opposing corners. Kessler — who was part of the Clinton/Gore transition team in 1996, and served as finance vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and as national finance vice chair for the ill-fated Gore 2000 — has been tapped by the Hillary Clinton camp to head up its Pennsylvania fundraising. So imagine his surprise when he learned that his colleague Alderman, who hustled cash for both Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in ’04, had been named a head of state fund-raising for Barack Obama. “He’s a smart guy,” Kessler says of Alderman. “But he’s wrong this time.”

Kessler says he’s a fan of the Illinois senator, whose rock-star status is helping fill coffers, but contends Obama’s lack of political experience leaves a drive-a-truck-through-it hole in his candidacy. Alderman counters that Obama is “different in the right way for 2008. Obama can talk to the rest of the world and regain their trust — and that’s been the most dangerous thing lost in the Bush/Cheney years.”

While both lawyers are well organized and well connected to the local Democratic donor pool, they’re no doubt in for some tense moments as each tries to tap the same big walking ATMs. Kessler’s donations are reportedly at a little over $100,000 right now, and reflect a supporter roster rumored to include traditional Dem fund-raising heavyweights like Steve Sheller, managing partner of Sheller, Ludwig; Dan Berger, of Berger & Montague; and Rob McCord, chairman of the Eastern Technology Council. Alderman says he’s raised close to six figures so far, but expects to gain momentum (and cash) when Obama stumps in Philly this month. One big fish Alderman’s already managed to reel in: Richard Horowitz, president and COO of investment firm RAF Industries.

Ever the political realist, Alderman admits it’ll be hard to best Hillary’s formidable war chest, but he’s hardly conceding. Obama, he says, will be able to tap non-traditional givers electrified by his entry into the race — “people who wouldn’t do it for Hillary, John Kerry, John Edwards. They’re a little bit younger, and are really attracted to Obama’s message.”

The audacity of hope, indeed.