Newly released visitor logs show that more than two dozen of President Obama’s top-tier campaign fundraisers visited the White House during his first nine months in office, providing more evidence of the administration’s quiet effort to reward donors with VIP access including private briefings with presidential advisers.
The records, released in response to a request from The Washington Times, show that one Florida trial lawyer scored an Oval Office meeting with the president. A Hollywood music executive who now serves as the U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas attended two private receptions, including one in the White House residence. A Maryland health care executive and his wife received a private White House tour.
Other records released by the White House showed that the president’s top aides have met frequently with lobbyists and major players in the health care overhaul debate.
The continued presence of both donors and lobbyists on White House logs appears to contradict a key component of Mr. Obama’s often-repeated campaign pledge to change Washington.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama acknowledged that he suffered “from the same original sin of all politicians, which is, we’ve got to raise money,” but said that he would fight against donor influence if sent to the White House.
White House aides called the release of the visitor logs a reminder of Mr. Obama’s commitment to a transparent government, in which the public is able to see who has the ear of the president and top aides, and evaluate his approach based on that knowledge.
Spokesman Benjamin LaBolt noted that most of the logs requested by The Times “were for administration officials who attended meetings at the White House as part of their daily work.”
The Times’ request covered the more than three dozen top bundlers - the people who tapped their networks of friends and associates for contributions - who the Obama campaign identified as having raised more than $500,000. Indeed, many of those key fundraisers took key jobs in Mr. Obama’s White House.
Julius Genachowski, a major bundler and frequent visitor, now chairs the Federal Communications Commission. Howard Gutman, a Washington lawyer, bundler and White House guest, is now ambassador to Belgium. Matthew W. Barzun, another top fundraiser, is now ambassador to Sweden.
Other top bundlers serve in advisory roles. Robert Wolf, the UBS Americas bank executive who headed up Mr. Obama’s New York fundraising effort and who golfed with the president on Martha’s Vineyard, made more than a dozen visits to the White House, the logs show.
By historic standards, frequent visits by both top donors and lobbyists are nothing out of the ordinary for the White House. Both groups have long played important roles in providing both political and policy advice to past administrations.
But the access granted to major fundraisers has in the past led to questions about undue influence, most notably in 1997. That’s when it was discovered that President Clinton had used White House coffees, overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and rides aboard Air Force One to cultivate and reward political support. Mr. Clinton said the sleepovers were justified because the guests were not only donors, but also close friends.
“The Lincoln Bedroom was never sold,” Mr. Clinton said at the time.
Mr. Obama vowed to be different when he was running for the presidency.
“The argument is not that I’m pristine, because I’m swimming in the same muddy water,” Mr. Obama said during a campaign appearance. “The argument is that I know it’s muddy, and I want to clean it up.”