Big-time Obama fundraisers to aid transition

President-elect Barack Obama has tapped some of the same big-time fundraisers who helped him collect more than a half-billion dollars for his presidential campaign to a new panel that will form the face of his administration.

Donald Gips, a former top aide to Vice President Al Gore who helped the Obama campaign raise at least $500,000, will serve on an advisory board overseeing the Obama transition, aides said Wednesday. He’ll be joined by Michael Froman, a Citigroup executive who raised at least $200,000 for the campaign, according to data compiled by Public Citizen, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks political fundraising and its influence on government policy.

“People who spend so much time working as fundraisers very frequently want something in return and as we’ve seen, they very frequently get something in return,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen.

“We saw in the Bush administration that nearly one in four fundraisers got some sort of appointment, and that includes transition team appointments, ambassadorships and cabinet posts,” Mr. Holman said, adding that it remains to be seen “how far Obama will go with this.

“But there’s nothing he can do to ignore these people,” he said.

Indeed, one of Mr. Obama’s first acts as president-elect was to address fundraisers two hours after his televised acceptance speech at Chicago’s Grant Park. While Mr. Obama met in a private tent with members of his campaign’s national finance committee, reporters were turned away and his comments weren’t audible from outside the tent.

Within hours after his landslide victory over Sen. John McCain, Mr. Obama’s campaign Web site - BarackObama.com - was transformed to help raise money for Democrats. The site posted a thank you page that solicited donations to the Democratic National Committee.

Obama aides announced the transition panel appointments Wednesday afternoon, saying the transition would be run through a newly-created nonprofit entity called the Obama-Biden Transition Project “to ensure a smooth transition from one administration to the next.”

Advisers had been informally planning a transition period for weeks, aides said. Their work included reviewing past transitions and “priority positions that must be filled by the incoming administration.”

The Obama campaign has credited small donors with fueling Mr. Obama’s more than $600 million fundraising operation, which easily outspent the McCain campaign in the months leading up to Tuesday’s election.

But big fundraisers such as those on his transition team also helped rake in lots of cash, including two other new transition panel members [-] Susan Rice and Federico Pea, each of whom raised at least $50,000 for the Obama campaign.

They and eight others will answer to another three-person transition oversight team whose members include Valerie Jarrett, a longtime Obama friend and executive director of a Chicago area real estate management company. She raised at least $100,000 for the campaign.

Serving with Ms. Jarrett on the oversight team are Pete Rouse, an Obama Senate aide, and William Daley, brother to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who served as commerce secretary under Bill Clinton.

Ms. Jarrett worked as deputy chief of staff to Mayor Daley in the 1990s before she became a top executive at the privately-held Habitat Company. Born in Shiraz, Iran, Ms. Jarrett’s friendship with Michelle Obama dates to when she was first engaged to Mr. Obama.

Another top Clinton appointee, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner, is advising the Obama transition team.

Mr. Gips also served domestic policy adviser to Mr. Gore, while Ms. Rice served on the National Security Council under Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Gips, whose financial support of Mr. Obama first began during the Democrat’s 2004 campaign for a seat in the Illinois state senate, now works as vice president of corporate strategy and development for Colorado-based Level 3 Communications, the sixth largest defense contractor in the country.

While Mr. Gips isn’t one of its lobbyists, the company also has spent more than a half-million dollars lobbying Congress and federal agencies so far this year, according to Senate records.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report from Chicago.

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