Obama in­vites top back­ers to events at White House

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY JACK GILLUM

Pres­i­dent Obama is us­ing priv­i­leged ac­cess to one of Amer­ica’s great­est land­marks to re­ward his most gen­er­ous fi­nan­cial sup­port­ers in ways that Repub­li­cans Mitt Rom­ney and Rick San­to­rum can’t match.

More than 60 of Mr. Obama’s big­gest cam­paign donors have vis­ited the White House more than once for meet­ings with top ad­vis­ers, hol­i­day par­ties or state din­ners, a re­view by the As­so­ci­ated Press has found.

The in­vi­ta­tions to 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Ave., which are le­gal, have hap­pened de­spite Mr. Obama’s past crit­i­cisms of Washington’s pay-for-ac­cess priv­i­leges and mark a re­ver­sal from early in the pres­i­dent’s term when donors com­plained he was keep­ing them at arm’s length.

As a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date run­ning against Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, Mr. Obama’s cam­paign noted that Mrs. Clin­ton and her hus­band, for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, had in­vited David Gef­fen — whom Mr. Obama’s cam­paign said had raised $18 mil­lion for the Clin­tons — to sleep in the Lin­coln Be­d­room.

The AP found no ev­i­dence of Mr. Obama’s own donors sleep­ing overnight in the White House, but time stamps show­ing ar­rivals and depar­tures on the gov­ern­ment’s logs are in­com­plete for more than 1.7 mil­lion records.

The AP’S re­view com­pared more than 470 of Mr. Obama’s most im­por­tant fi­nan­cial sup­port­ers against logs of 2 mil­lion vis­i­tors to the White House since mid-2009. It found that at least 250 of Mr. Obama’s ma­jor fundrais­ers and donors vis­ited the White House at least once, be­ing cleared for events like din­ners or one-on-one meet­ings with se­nior ad­vis­ers.

This month, the White House ex­tended in­vi­ta­tions to more than 30 of the pres­i­dent’s top fundrais­ers to an elab­o­rate state din­ner, where they min­gled with celebri­ties and dined with for­eign lead­ers on the South Lawn of the White House.

Other pur­poses for vis­its in­cluded one-on-one meet­ings with top West Wing staffers, such as for­mer chief of staff Pete Rouse and se­nior ad­viser Va­lerie Jar­rett. Those donors in­clude so­called “bundlers” — sup­port­ers who have raised hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars apiece for Mr. Obama’s re-elec­tion.

Mr. Obama’s cam­paign has said it will be­gin en­cour­ag­ing sup­port­ers to do­nate to a “su­per” po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee sup­port­ing him, Pri­or­i­ties USA Ac­tion, to coun­ter­bal­ance the cash flow­ing to Re­pub­li­can groups. The decision drew re­bukes from cam­paign-fi­nance watch­dogs and Repub­li­cans who said Mr. Obama flip-flopped on his prior stance as­sail­ing su­per PAC money. The group sup­port­ing Mr. Obama has raised $6.3 mil­lion so far.

Vis­i­tor-log de­tails of some Obama donors have sur­faced in news re­ports since he took of­fice. But the fi­nan­cial weight of su­per PACS and their in­flu­ence on this year’s elec­tion have prompted re­newed scru­tiny of the big­money fi­nanciers be­hind pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates — and what those sup­port­ers might want in re­turn.

Many of the White House vis­its by donors came be­fore the pres­i­dent em­braced the big­money, fundrais­ing groups he once as­sailed as a “threat to democ­racy” on grounds they cor­rode elec­tions by per­mit­ting un­lim­ited and ef­fec­tively anony­mous do­na­tions from bil­lion­aires and cor­po­ra­tions.

Mr. Obama was once so vo­cal about su­per PACS that he used his 2010 State of the Union speech to ac­cuse the Supreme Court jus­tices, present in the au­di­ence, of re­vers­ing a cen­tury of law that would “open the flood­gates for spe­cial in­ter­ests,” in­clud­ing for­eign cor­po­ra­tions, in its Cit­i­zens United case.

A White House spokesman did not fully respond to re­peated re­quests from the AP for de­tails of vis­its by Mr. Obama’s cam­paign donors, say­ing it was im­prac­ti­cal to do so.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The red car­pet of the North Por­tico is pre­pared for Pres­i­dent Obama to wel­come Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron to the White House for a state din­ner ear­lier this month. Mr. Obama is us­ing priv­i­leged ac­cess to one of Amer­ica’s great­est land­marks to re­ward his most gen­er­ous fi­nan­cial sup­port­ers.

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