White House selling access to Obama Foundation donors?

We may not need to elect Hillary Clinton to return to the days when Travelocity could have listed the Lincoln Bedroom as a tourist destination. At least Barack Obama’s donors to his foundation didn’t stay overnight. According to a new review of White House visitor logs and the list of big-ticket donors to the Obama Foundation conducted by MapLight, every single six-figure benefactor got a meeting with the President — mostly through events conveniently left off the official schedule:


More than a dozen of the 39 named donors to the Obama Foundation have visited the White House for exclusive gatherings and events, according to a new report from the transparency group MapLight. …

In fact, every donor whose family or foundation had given more than $100,000 met with Obama at the White House, according to the review by MapLight, a non-profit research organization that tracks money in politics. The group looked at White House visitor records, the foundation’s website and its tax returns.

Donors who have met with Obama include the actress Julia Roberts and her cinematographer husband Danny Moder, private equity executive Mark Gallogly and his wife Lise Strickler; and the founder of clothing retailer Zumiez, Tom Campion, and his wife, Sonia.

They all attended a private gathering at the White House in January, MapLight found. The visit went unnoticed because it was not listed on Obama’s public schedule.

Gallogly and Strickler had donated $340,000 to the Barack Obama Foundation before the event, while the Campions had contributed $500,000.

As The Hill’s Megan Wilson points out, this isn’t the first time that this has been discovered. Four years ago, the Associated Press conducted a similar review, and found similar patterns. In that case, however, it was campaign donors who got face time with Obama:


President Barack Obama is using privileged access to the White House to reward his most generous financial supporters in ways that Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum can’t match: More than 60 of Obama’s biggest campaign donors have visited more than once for meetings with top advisers, holiday parties or state dinners, a review by The Associated Press has found.

The invitations to visit the White House, which are a legal and established practice, came despite 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 that Obama was keeping them at arm’s length.

When Obama was a presidential candidate running against Hillary Rodham Clinton, his campaign sharply noted that Clinton and her husband, President Bill Clinton, had invited David Geffen — whom Obama’s campaign said had raised $18 million for the Clintons — to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom.

The AP found no evidence of Obama’s 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.

No matter how one cuts it, granting special access to campaign donors is corrupt, even if it’s not technically illegal and even if “everyone does it.” Selling access to boost a personal foundation is arguably worse. One can argue that campaign fundraising involves personal contact and that a president is stuck with the White House as his home by forces outside of his control. Obama has no job-related reason to start a non-profit foundation, however, and using public facilities to benefit his private endeavor constitutes at least a conflict of interest.


The timing of these invitations suggests a quid pro quo, too. Maplight details more of the sordid timing between the donations and the invitations to off-calendar events:

Altogether, 15 of the 39 named donors to the Obama Foundation have been invited to small meetings with the president at the White House, according to a MapLight review of visitor logs, the foundation’s website, and its tax returns to the IRS. Four of those people were first invited to small meetings with Obama at the White House following their foundation donations. Nearly three-quarters of the contributors the foundation has disclosed have been invited to the White House for events with Obama, including every donor whose family or foundation has contributed more than $100,000. …

Campion and his wife have donated about $270,000 to the DNC since 2007, but they do not appear to have been to a small gathering with Obama in the White House before the one with Julia Roberts in January 2015. One day before that event, the Campion family met with John Podesta, who served as a senior advisor to Obama before joining Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Jim Simons, founder of the private equity firm Renaissance Technologies, and his wife gave $340,000 to the Obama Foundation in 2014. Visitor logs show the Simons family was invited to a smaller event with Obama at the White House for the first time in March 2015 — a dinner with Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, Google parent company chairman Eric Schmidt, and a handful of prominent scientists and mathematicians.

Marilyn Simons had not been invited to the White House before March 2015, visitor logs show. She leads the Simons Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose website says its mission is to “advance the frontiers of research in mathematics and the basic sciences.” In April 2015, Simons met with Meredith Drosback, the assistant director for education and physical sciences in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Simons family contributed an additional $330,000 to the Obama Foundation last year.


Looks like the Obamas learned a few lessons about building foundations from the Clintons, eh?

The White House refuses to comment directly on the analysis, but Josh Earnest says that Obama remains committed to “not be raising money for the foundation while he’s still in office.” All of these are just coincidences, Earnest wants us to believe … and all of these coincidences just happened to coincidentally take place at events that the White House conveniently left off the president’s public schedule. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Most. Transparent. Administration. Evah.

Update, 5/20: Jeff Dobbs saw this coming a year ago.

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