The Mitt Romney campaign will offer special access to the former Massachusetts governor to anyone who contributes $50,000 or more to a new joint fundraising committee, “Romney Victory,” according to a report by BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith.
That access will include a space at a June retreat in California with Romney, “preferred status at the first Presidential Inaugural retreat” and “yet to be determined access at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August,” according to an e-mail cited by Smith.
The news comes on the heels of a New York Times report that shows the door to the White House has been unusually open to Barack Obama’s top donors — and that those donors are often accompanied on their visits to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. by outright lobbyists.
Among donors who gave $30,000 or less to Obama and/or the Democratic Party, just 20 percent visited the White House — but nearly two-thirds of the president’s top fundraisers in the 2008 campaign visited the White House at least once and some multiple times, according to the NYT analysis.
Predictably, the president and his administration deny that they grant access in exchange for donations. Not only did the president not always side with his donors on the issues they brought to his attention, but he’s welcomed plenty of non-donors to the White House, too, his spokespeople say. White House spokesperson Eric Schultz put it this way: “Being a supporter of the president does not secure you a visit to the White House, nor does it preclude you from one.”
It might be frustrating to those of us who don’t have a stash of cash equivalent to the maximum campaign contribution in our piggy banks or safes at home that money buys access to busy politicians — but, on this, I’m inclined to agree with Patrick Kennedy Jr., who told the NYT he thinks increased access for donors is kind of just part of the business. It’d be naive of anyone to think that money doesn’t talk.
While the amount of money it takes to acquire inaugural retreat access to Romney might raise eyebrows, the campaign e-mail cited by BuzzFeed is substantively no different than the Obama campaign schemes that enroll donors in a drawing for dinner with the president. Of all the incentives a candidate can offer potential donors, his ear is certainly the greatest.
The president’s or any candidate’s special willingness to listen to donors isn’t necessarily a problem. He can’t possibly listen to every single person who has an opinion on an issue — so it makes sense that he’d include “skin in the game” among his criteria for whom to give a hearing. Unduly rewarding donors, though — as in the case of Solyndra — is another matter. That’s called pay-to-play and it’s a scandal.