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Buying Access in Obama’s Washington

A recent story in the New York Times shined a light on the kind of access that big money donors are given to the President and the White House.

Organizing for Action, the tax exempt “social welfare group” that has evolved from his campaign committee, is raising funds to further President Obama’s agenda in his second term including initiatives like climate change and gun control. According to the New York Times, the group is relying heavily on raising big money from a small group of Democrat power players willing to raise $500,000 or more. Those donors also get another nice perk – insider access to Obama and the White House.

But those contributions will also translate into access, according to donors courted by the president’s aides. Next month, Organizing for Action will hold a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, where donors paying $50,000 each will mingle with Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Mr. Carson, who previously led the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.

When asked about the story this week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney stumbled through an answer, relied on a prepared statement and referred questions about the practice to Organizing for Action. Even when confronted by quotes from Obama in 2007 deploring such habits, Carney was unable to provide a substantive answer.

Here’s the video via the Daily Caller:

The Washington Free Beacon noted that even MSNBC’s Chuck Todd thinks this looks dirty.

“This just looks bad–it looks like the White House is selling access,” Todd said Monday. “It’s the definition of selling access. If you believe money has a strangle hold over the entire political system this is ceding the moral high ground.”

When even the Obama News Network thinks this looks like “selling access” you’ve got a problem.

But who may be getting this special treatment? Well, in short we don’t know. Organizing for Action is a 501 (c)(4) organization therefore they are not required to provide a list of their donors or exactly how much they have contributed. We may be able to get an idea of who they could be by examining who Obama’s largest donors were on this last campaign.

According to The Blaze, the five biggest donors to Obama’s campaign and associated committees were Jeffery & Marilyn Katzenberg, Irwin Jacobs, Fred Eychaner, Jon Stryker and Steve Mostyn.

According to the White House visitors records, these donors, or their spouses, were guests at the White House on multiple occasions in the President’s first term.

Jeffery & Marilyn Katzenberg visited the White House at least nine times. Irwin Jacobs had four visits. Fred Eychaner had nine appearances at the White House. Jon Stryker visited the executive mansion three times. Finally, Steve Mostyn’s wife Amber Mostyn visited at least once, but there are nine visits recorded for Amber Anderson her maiden name which has previously been used in donation records.

Of course, it has been well documented that the White House visitor logs are not all inclusive, so there may have been more meetings than just those that were publicly available.

Now assuming for the sake of argument that all these people are who we think they are (and with names like Jacobs and Anderson, they may not be), these donors have gotten some nice access to the big man. Some of these meetings were listed in the records as public tours, some for West Wing tours (which the general public does NOT get) and even a few meetings with “POTUS.”

Each of these donors have significant history fundraising for Democrats.

Jeffery Katzenberg is an executive at DreamWorks Animation and a heavy-hitter in Democrat fundraising, providing for nearly a third of $6.5 million budget for the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities US Action in 2011. In an interview with CBS News, Katzenberg said that his donations were meant to counter “the attempted hijacking of the elections by Karl Rove, the Koch brothers, and other extreme right wing special interest money.” Katzenberg told CBS that he didn’t expect any special considerations or personal attention because of his donations, but I think nine trips to the White House including meeting with POTUS himself, might qualify as “personal attention.”

Irwin Jacobs is the former chairman and CEO of Qualcomm whose multi-million donations to Obama and other Democrats is a drop in the bucket of his billion dollar plus net worth. Qualcomm’s PAC is also a major player in Washington donations giving most of its money to Democrats. However, as Open Secrets noted, Qualcomm might be in hot water with federal regulators.

Jacob’s former firm is currently in some legal trouble. Qualcomm recently launched an internal investigation into possible violations of federal anti-bribery laws, after disclosing in February that it was the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into the company’s compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The exact nature of the potential violations has not been released.

In can’t hurt your case to have a good record of financial support to the President’s administration if your former company is under a potential cloud with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Jon Stryker, founder of the liberal Coalition for Progress PAC has been contributing big bucks to Democrats for years, giving at least $2 million to the Priorities USA Action super PAC. Stryker, who is recorded as having at least one meeting with POTUS at the White House, did run into a problem from the the policy of a President he fought so hard to support.

Obamacare included a new 2.3% tax on medical devices, and since Stryker owns a medical device company he has had to lay off employees and cut costs to account for the increased tax hit. Stryker will close two facilities in New York State and fire 107 employees in an effort to slash $100 million from his operating costs.

Fred Eychaner, a reclusive Chicago investor, printer and radio station owner has been courted by the Obama White House for years after Eychaner originally backed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary. Bloomberg reports that Eychaner has seen some nice rewards for his donations. “In the past four years, Eychaner visited the White House seven times, and the president named him a trustee for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.”

Bloomberg also noted the similar perks that are reportedly being offered now via Organizing for Action, have also been enjoyed by Eychaner and other big dollar Obama donors.

As a donor, Eychaner isn’t alone in enjoying some White House perks. Big-dollar contributors are often invited to state dinners and other White House events, sometimes asked for their views on policy matters and often win postings to ambassadorships or advisory panels.

In January of 2011, Eychaner hosted a $35,000-per couple fundraising dinner for Obama at his home in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

To finish out the Obama’s top 5 fundraisers is Steve Mostyn. A Texas trial attorney, Mostyn made his fortune as “the hurricane tort king” when he negotiated large settlements for property owners affected by Hurricane Ike with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. Mostyn and his wife Amber Anderson Mostyn, have been big backers of Democrat causes in Texas and on the national stage.

In the wake of Obama’s feisty performance in the second presidential debate, Mostyn wired $1 million to Priorities USA Action, bringing his total contributed to the PAC of $3 million, making him one of the mega-donors that played such a key role in the Democrats victories on election night last year.

Steve and Amber Mostyn’s courting by Priorities USA included a meeting with big Democrat strategists on one of the couple’s yachts.

Priorities strategists Bill Burton and Paul Begala went to Key West, Fla., in April to meet the couple on Steve’s Italian-made, 60-foot-plus yacht—one of three he owns—and asked for a $1 million donation. Burton showed the Mostyns raw footage of prospective campaign ads on his iPad that later would be used in ads portraying Romney as a corporate villain who heartlessly closed factories and fired people for profit.

The Obama campaign emphasized the importance of small dollar donations to their campaign both in 2008 and 2012, but donations like those from the Mostyns and other top level Democrat donors may have made an even more significant impact on the election results. To illustrate this you only need look at the donations to the powerful Priorities USA Action.

Of the $52 million that Priorities USA Action has raised for the entire election cycle, $19 million (or nearly 40) percent came from just six individuals. Besides Mostyn, these include: Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of Dreamworks Animation, who has given $3 million; Fred Eychaner, a Chicago based media mogul whose print empire includes the Chicago Reader, who has given $3.5 million; James Simons, the hedge fund billionaire founder of Renaissance Technologies, who has given $3.5 million; Irwin Jacobs, a San Diego billionaire and the founder and former CEO of Qualcomm ($2 million); and Jon Stryker, a philanthropist and gay rights activist ($2 million.) Other big donations to Priorities USA Action last month included $1 million from director Steven Spielberg, $1 million from famed trial lawyer David Boies (who argued for Al Gore in the 2000 Florida recount case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court).

Recognize any more of those names?

With this history of insider visits to the White House, appointments to special commissions, and meetings with top Democrat strategists and officials, these mega-donors to Obama’s past campaign efforts may very well be courted again to fund Organizing for Action. What will that money get Jeff Katzenberg, Irwin Jacobs, Steve Mostyn and the rest of the left’s fundraising elite? Well if the New York Times is right, a lot more of the same.

No matter how much the administration denies it, Obama’s Washington seems to be a pay-to-play kind of town.

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