NY Times: Obama Administration Effectively Sells Access to Lobbyists, Donors

Okay, who pissed off the New York Times? Because this is not something they’d usually report about a Democratic administration.

The story begins with anecdotes involving such access being sold, then gets to this juicy tidbit:

Although Mr. Obama has made a point of not accepting contributions from registered lobbyists, a review of campaign donations and White House visitor logs shows that special interests have had little trouble making themselves heard. Many of the president’s biggest donors, while not lobbyists, took lobbyists with them to the White House, while others performed essentially the same function on their visits.

More broadly, the review showed that those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others. Among donors who gave $30,000 or less, about 20 percent visited the White House, according to a New York Times analysis that matched names in the visitor logs with donor records. But among those who donated $100,000 or more, the figure rises to about 75 percent. Approximately two-thirds of the president’s top fund-raisers in the 2008 campaign visited the White House at least once, some of them numerous times.

The Times reports several of the donors had no previous history of donations to the president or his party. The donations just happened to come around the time these individuals and their interest groups wanted access to Obama.

In one such case, the chairman of a health care data firm who usually donated to Republicans suddenly made a $35,800 donation to the Obama Victory Fund — the maximum allowed under federal law. Suddenly, with the help of a Democratic consultant, he had a meeting scheduled at the White House.

Another executive from a medical device firm stepped up his giving to the Democratic Party, also making a $35,800 contribution to the Obama Victory Fund. Around the same time he was able to secure multiple meetings with top White House officials. What coincidental timing.

The White House insists there’s nothing untoward going on. But Patrick J. Kennedy (yes, of the Kennedy family), a former member of the House of Representatives, says this is how business works in Washington:

“If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”

Kennedy goes on to say that he knows for a fact the White House looks at the political contribution reports before accepting meetings.

At a minimum, it is standard for administrations to recognize generous supporters with sought-after invitations to special events. The Obama White House logs are filled with the names of donors welcomed for St. Patrick’s Day receptions, Super Bowl parties and concerts. Last year, several major Democratic donors rounded out the guest list for a film screening with the first lady.

But in addition to social events, business is also carried out in the White House and its executive offices. The logs suggest some Obama fund-raisers and donors have been trafficking in ties they forged to the administration, helping clients get a seat at the table.

When Los Angeles officials wanted White House backing for a program that would speed up local transit projects, they turned last spring to a California political operative, Kerman Maddox, a top Obama fund-raiser and party donor. “We thought he could help our outreach in Washington,” said Richard Leahy, chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

In an internal memo justifying Mr. Maddox’s hiring, the authority wrote that he had “direct access to the Executive Oval Office” and cited his position on the Obama campaign’s National Finance Committee. Mr. Maddox’s company Web site prominently features photographs of him with the Obamas.

One day after the authority signed off on his contract, Mr. Maddox made a $10,000 donation to the Obama re-election effort; he donated an additional $6,000 in June. In August, Mr. Maddox landed a meeting for himself and the authority officials with Melody Barnes, then director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, one of several meetings the officials were able to get.

A month later Obama announced the significant expansion of a federal loan for the projects.

Lamell McMorris, a Chicago native and longtime Obama supporter who appears in White House visitor logs 20 times, runs a Washington consulting firm that, as recently as last year, was registered to lobby. He also operates a sports management company, and has taken clients like the football player Cam Newton and the New Jersey Nets guard Anthony Morrow to the White House for private tours. Mr. McMorris did not reply to requests for comment.

In other words, the Obama Administration not only sells access to the president but also the White House itself. Donate to the president’s victory fund and you can use the federal property to attract clients and business for yourself.

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