Obama Donors and Special Access = More, Bigger, Faster

One of the many aspects of our government that I dislike is the "pay to play" nature of influencing elected leaders. If you were idealistic enough to imagine President Obama would somehow be different, I could have proven you were wrong before election day. He received more donations from the top 1% of Americans than any other president. He also received more money from Wall Street than his opponent.

By June of 2008, the Obama advantage on Wall Street was clear.
(AP - June 2008) For both candidates, Wall Street's investment and banking sectors have become among their portliest cash cows, contributing $9.5 million to Obama and $5.3 million to McCain so far.
There is a commenter on DailyKos using the ID "Goldman Owned Party" as a dig at the Republicans. But, that's also far from accurate. Goldman Sachs has a history of connections to the Democrats in congress, especially the Senate. This makes sense, because the financial industry is in New York City, not a GOP stronghold. You donate to the likely winner, buying influence. Seldom does money choose the winner — it follows him or her, though.
(CNN - April 2010) According to Federal Election Commission figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Goldman Sachs' political action committee and individual contributors who listed the company as their employer donated $994,795 during 2007 and 2008 to Obama's presidential campaign, the second-highest contribution from a company PAC and company employees.
Goldman Sachs contributions to the Obama campaign were more than four times larger than the $230,095 in donations to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign.
What does money buy? Access, definitely. But it also buys positions of influence and power. Now we are learning that President Obama has appointed more big-dollar donors to political posts in two years than President Bush did in eight years. That's what money buys.

Top Barack Obama donors net government jobs
IWATCH NEWS | 6/15/11 4:37 AM EDT
More than two years after Obama took office vowing to banish "special interests" from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found.
These "bundlers" raised at least $50,000 — and sometimes more than $500,000 — in campaign donations for Obama's campaign. Many of those in the "Class of 2008" are now being asked to bundle contributions for Obama's reelection, an effort that could cost $1 billion.
This is my favorite part of the iWatch story:
The appointment of George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton illustrates how the administration has rewarded many top fundraisers.
Overton wrote in 2003 that the influence big donors wield in elections means that an "overwhelming majority of citizens are effectively excluded from an important stage of the political process." Yet Overton bundled at least $500,000 for Obama. He was named to the Obama transition team and in February 2009 was appointed principal deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy. Overton visited the White House more than 80 times from January 2009 through the end of 2010 for events ranging from small meetings with high-level staffers to social and entertainment events, sometimes with his wife, records show.

I am not stunned that rich liberals upset when rich conservatives had White House access now rush to participate in the same system they once denounced. Of course, the rich liberals will claim that unlike their conservative peers, the liberal heart is guided by altruism while those monied conservatives are evil capitalists. As if well-to-do professors don't try to hawk their books? As if Hollywood insiders don't want to sell tickets to movies?

I'm sick of liberal hypocrisy when it comes to donating to politicians. You donate, you probably want something — even if you convinced yourself that what you want is ideal for all people. That's true of donors to both parties. Most conservatives and liberals donating to campaigns do believe they are doing the best thing for all Americans. You might disagree, but the tendency to ascribe evil motives is plain silly, too.

You can be assured that Prof. Overton has rationalized his fundraising and appointment. He's not like one of those evil "Bushies." Of course, Prof. Overton would admit he's not poor. He's not even close to average. You don't bundle a half-million dollars without being in a fairly elite segment of society.

The median household income in 2009 was $52,000 (census.gov), only $2000 more than the minimum you needed to raise for the Obama campaign if you wanted a special kind of access. But, it seems you need to be among the richest of the rich to join the White House chats. Not really surprising and I don't understand why anyone thought this administration would be different.

The iWatch News investigation found:
  • Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took "key administration posts," as defined by the White House. More than half the 24 ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised $500,000.
  • The big bundlers had broad access to the White House for meetings with top administration officials and glitzy social events. In all, campaign bundlers and their family members account for more than 3,000 White House meetings and visits. Half of them raised $200,000 or more.
Light, the NYU expert on presidential transitions, said that in recent years many have sought jobs with deep reach into the federal bureaucracy — and found a receptive ear in the White House.
"When they get a résumé from a bundler, that is a real signal of seriousness," Light said. "It's also a thinly veiled quid pro quo," and it "goes without saying they will get considered."
Public Citizen found in 2008 that President George W. Bush had appointed about 200 bundlers to administration posts over his eight years in office. That is roughly the same number Obama has appointed in a little more than two years, the iWatch News analysis showed.
The rich don't merely get some access, they get a lot of access.
Hyatt hotels heiress Penny Pritzker, Wall Street titan Robert Wolf and financier Mark Gallogly, for instance, all served on the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Commission.
In late February, when he set up a new commission on job creation, Obama again turned to Pritzker, Wolf and Gallogly.
Pritzker, one of America's richest women and a key fundraiser and adviser in the early days of the Obama campaign, has logged more than 50 visits to the White House, individually or with family members. Obama also appointed Pritzker to the Kennedy Center board and her husband, Chicago ophthalmologist Bryan Traubert, to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.
Cool. Not only do you get a nice appointment to a government board or commission, but so does your spouse. Two jobs saved or created, right?

Since shortly after the founding of the United States, the politically connected have sought one set of jobs with particular gusto. They wanted to travel to exotic places, meet interesting people, and…. No, they didn't want military commissions. The connected have long wanted to be ambassadors.
Obama, however, has nominated 24 bundlers to ambassadorships to date. Of those, 14 each raised at least $500,000. Six others raised $200,000 or more. Jacobson, now ambassador to Canada, is the only one listed at the $50,000 minimum, and he played a pivotal finance role in the campaign.
The Obama record has disappointed the American Foreign Service Association, which believes these appointments should mostly go to career diplomats. The organization cites the 1980 Foreign Service Act, which states that political contributions "should not be a factor" in picking ambassadors, a rule presidents of both parties have all but ignored.
Passing over career diplomats in favor of megadonors amounts to "selling ambassadorships," said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
As my wife noted, it's ironic that people who don't need jobs can buy low-paying government positions. I know several well-educated men and women available to be ambassadors or special advisors to the White House.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/56993.html#ixzz1PMWodHFP


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