It's no secret in American politics that money equals access. But a new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) shows -- despite some increased transparency -- that the Obama White House has been equally kind to its financial 'rainmakers' as previous administrations and proves that "financial bundlers" continue to have much to gain in political influence by working their networks for big money donations.
As iWatchNews, the online portal for CPI, reports today:
Dozens of Obama’s elite donors — many of them wealthy business figures — have been appointed to advisory panels and commissions that can play a role in setting government policy. Others have been invited to a range of exclusive White House briefings, holiday parties and splashy social events.
And some have snagged lucrative government contracts that benefit their business interests or investment portfolios, a Center for Public Integrity investigation has found.
These fundraisers are known as “bundlers” because they solicit $2,500 contributions from multiple friends, colleagues and family members and provide “bundles” of checks to the campaign. The sum of contributions per bundler ranges from $50,000 to more than $500,000.
Their analysis included these key findings:
- At least 68 of 350 Obama bundlers for the 2012 election or their spouses have served in the administration, ranging from seats on advisory boards that tackle critical national issues such as economic growth, to ceremonial posts such as serving on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
- At least 250 of the bundlers have been cleared to attend a White House event since January 2009. Most have come twice while others are frequent visitors. The events range from policy briefings to coveted invitations to state dinners and music and entertainment nights featuring top-draw performers at the executive mansion.
- At least 30 of the 2012 bundlers have ties to companies that conduct business with federal agencies or hope to do so. They range from Wall Street investors to green energy, technology and defense firms with multimillion-dollar government contracts.
Out with the Bundlers, In with the Super PACs
In some respects, however, the role of 'campaign bundler' seems outdated in post-Citizens United world of campaign finance. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in that case, big contributors and corporations can give unlimited (and undisclosed) funds to so-called 'Super PACs' and these groups may ultimately yield much larger bang for the buck than traditional campaigns.
Politico reported Wednesday that although Obama himself has shunned the existence of Super PACs (even his own), his campaign cannot but enter the murky water of outside groups if it wants to match the firepower of the Super PAC's lining up behind Republican party candidates. Glen Thrush and Kenneth P. Vogel report:
the scorching effectiveness of the pro-Romney PAC attack on Newt Gingrich in Iowa, and the lack of a defense from any super PAC supporting the former speaker, has some of the president’s top campaign officials questioning a clean-hands stance born of principle and circa-2008 political packaging.
“I don’t think the president is just ambivalent about his super PAC. He’s flat-out opposed to it,” said former South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian, a member of the Obama campaign’s national finance committee who has raised more than $200,000 for the president’s Chicago-based campaign so far this cycle.
“I was at the national finance committee in Chicago, and these are the people with these connections, and nobody was talking, even behind the scenes, about writing checks to the super PAC,” Harpootlian said. “That’s a problem. We didn’t make the rules. The president has called out the Supreme Court on Citizens United to their faces. … But it’s the state of play now, and we have to look at what Romney’s PAC did to Newt in Iowa. It’s dangerous. We can’t unilaterally disarm.”
Politico scores points for eliciting the crudest metaphor of the week (so far) regarding Super Pacs. This from former Bill Clinton aide and Democratic pundit-cum-operative operative, Paul Begala:
Super PACs are like guns...In the right hands, a gun is useful, essential for defending your country and perfectly acceptable. In the wrong hands, they kill people. … My goal is to make sure the president doesn’t get outgunned.
The fact is, when it comes to Super PACs, the president may well be outgunned. If the Republican primary season is any indication, the amount of money to be spent in 2012 will achieve historic levels. According to CNN:
Super PACs, the vehicle of choice for outside group spending in the 2012 presidential election, so far have spent at least $6 million on the upcoming South Carolina Republican presidential primary and more than $26 million overall in an effort to influence the outcome of the race for the White House, according to federal campaign records.