“It starts setting up that relationship. If you help with the money, we’ll do something nice for you. And that is a slippery slope.”
Democratic Party officials told The Times that there is “absolutely no correlation” between fundraising and attendance at White House events.
“I don’t think it’s surprising that people that support the president do go to functions at the White House and have other access, but there are many, many more Americans who attend events and town halls and other things at the White House every single day,” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse said.
Only select members of the public, however, were provided access to a series of invite-only briefings by senior administration officials organized by the DNC.
Over the summer, for instance, one of Mr. Obama’s deputy chiefs of staff, Jim Messina, flew to Los Angeles and San Francisco to provide in-person briefings to a small collection of top donors to explain the administration’s plan for tackling health care legislation and counter the rising tide of opposition at town-hall meetings. In another, a group was briefed by one of Mr. Obama’s top economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee.
And festive events at the White House, such as parties thrown to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and July Fourth, were underwritten in part or in full by the DNC. Guests lists for those functions have not been made public.
Menu for access
The DNC has presented a menu of exclusive access opportunities to top givers, according to internal DNC documents provided to potential donors and obtained by The Times.
Top-tier donors gain membership to the DNC’s National Finance Committee or to the ultra-exclusive National Advisory Board, both of which meet four times a year, including this week at the Mandarin Hotel in Washington.
“They have an opportunity to meet senior members of the Obama Administration and senior members of Congress, and to hear from political analysts and policy experts,” according to the internal DNC documents.
Mark Gilbert, a Florida businessman who raised more than $500,000 for Mr. Obama, said he gets regular e-mails from the White House on topics that interest him — in his case, economic policy — and he occasionally joins special conference calls for Mr. Obama’s political supporters. The calls are frequently timed to follow up on a major news development out of the White House.
“Any time something major takes place, they follow it up with a conference call with someone who was involved with the policy decision,” Mr. Gilbert said. “Anything that has to do with the Treasury, I get an e-mail.”
Mr. Gilbert said the same practice was routine during the presidential campaign, and it helped Mr. Obama’s supporters feel like partners.