Remember when Barack Obama promised to end business as usual in Washington as part of his “Hope and Change” platform? Yeah, neither does he:
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.
As a candidate, Obama spoke passionately about diminishing the clout of moneyed interests. Kicking off his presidential run on Feb. 10, 2007, he blasted “the cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests,” who had “turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.”
“We’re here today to take it back,” he said.
But just like other presidential aspirants, Obama relied heavily on megadonors to propel his campaign across the finish line, and many fundraisers have shared in the spoils of victory.
Payoffs don’t come just in the form of government jobs. Politico reports on the case of Donald Gips, a telecom-industry executive that delivered more than $500,000 in contributions to Obama’s 2008 campaign. In the summer of 2009, Gips got named ambassador to South Africa, a prestigious if quiet diplomatic posting, but that wasn’t the best return on Gips’ investment. His company, Level 3 Communications, got $13.8 million in Porkulus dollars for broadband projects — about which Gips claimed he knew nothing at all.
IWatch investigated the outcomes for 556 bundlers in the 2008 Obama campaign. Of those, 184 found jobs in the administration, or just shy of a third. However, 80% 0f the big-ticket ($500K+) bundlers ended up with “key administration posts.” The bundlers account for over 3,000 White House meetings and visits, a rather traditional means of thanking key contributors, and certainly less expensive than giving them sinecures in the executive branch.
Half of the 24 bundlers appointed to ambassador positions raised $500,000 or more in 2008. That has raised the ire of the American Foreign Service Association, which represents career diplomats:
Passing over career diplomats in favor of megadonors amounts to “selling ambassadorships,” said Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
Thomas Pickering, who served as ambassador to Russia and several other countries during a diplomatic career spanning four decades, said turning to bundlers adds a “new dimension” to what he termed “buying offices” through aggressive fundraising. “An individual can multiply their chances by going out and soliciting a lot of contributions other than just their own,” said Pickering, who chairs the American Academy of Diplomacy.
That’s nothing new, of course. Presidents have long rewarded donors with diplomatic portfolios. However, they usually didn’t run on the promise to end the influence of big money in the Beltway to get into the position of playing along with business as usual. This will only surprise those who believed that a machine pol from Chicago who never bothered to challenge the status quo in the Windy City somehow had credibility as a reformer as a presidential candidate.