EXCLUSIVE: Democratic donors rewarded with W.H. perks

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Since taking office, Mr. Obama has pledged that his administration will be “the most open and transparent administration in history” and has agreed to make public the names of those who sign into White House visitor logs, though a request from The Times for logs that show visits from his top 45 bundlers has so far gone unfilled.

Requests for guest lists to various White House events, such as a recent cocktail reception surrounding the celebration of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ National Hockey League Stanley Cup victory or the Latin music concert last week, have also been denied repeatedly.

Doling out ambassadorships

The most traditional aspect of the Obama administration’s continued outreach to donors has involved the time-honored practice of doling out ambassadorships to his most prolific financial benefactors. The task of matching up bundlers to foreign posts was overseen by Chicago lawyer David Jacobson, who served during the campaign as the deputy to finance chairwoman Penny Pritzker, several of Mr. Obama’s ambassadors said in interviews.

Shortly after Mr. Obama’s election, Mr. Jacobson was assigned the title of special assistant for presidential personnel. From that perch, he approached top bundlers and asked them to provide him with their top six choices for foreign postings.

Mr. Jacobson eventually returned to most of the bundlers with word of their postings. For young music executive Nicole Avant, that meant the Bahamas. For veteran political fundraiser Alan Solomont, it was Spain. A request for comment from Mr. Jacobson was routed to the White House.

For a number of supporters who began the 2008 race in the camp of a rival candidate, there have been other rewards.

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton prepared to lead a delegation to El Salvador to attend the inauguration of President Mauricio Funes, she invited one ambassador, two diplomats, three congressmen, and McAllen, Texas, construction company executive Alonzo Cantu. Mr. Cantu also happened to be a major fundraiser for her primary campaign. He later contributed to Mr. Obama’s general election bid.

Still others have been invited to sit on a wide array of presidential commissions and advisory panels. Several top bundlers, including Ms. Pritzker and Mr. Wolf, sit on the president’s Economic Advisory Board, which has been helping him navigate the nation’s financial crisis. This fall, top bundlers Andres Lopez and Abigail Pollak were tapped to join the Commission to Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of the American Latino.

With many of the president’s top bundlers now serving in ambassadorships, and therefore unable to help with a 2012 re-election bid, the DNC has started the process of recruiting a new round of top givers.

The DNC began cultivating these donors this summer, when Mr. Obama’s health care legislation was facing strong opposition from vocal opponents at town-hall meetings. The president’s top political advisers took commercial flights to California, paid for by the DNC, for meetings with key donors in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Top White House advisers told about 25 DNC donors in Los Angeles to remember that Mr. Obama “has been counted down or out and surprised people” before, said one bundler who attended a California meeting, but spoke on the condition he not be named.

The most exclusive access to the president has been reserved for Mr. Obama’s closest friends, many of whom also served as donors and bundlers during his campaign. When the president hosted a Ramadan banquet at the White House, he invited three top fundraisers, Hasan Chandoo, Wahid Hamid and Lutfi Hassan. Mr. Chandoo and Mr. Hamid, who both raised between $100,000 and $200,000 during the campaign, had been college roommates of Mr. Obama’s.

Marty Nesbitt, who bundled between $50,000 and $100,000, and John Rogers, who bundled more than $500,000, have both spent time with Mr. Obama in the White House, including joining the president in the White House movie theater, which Mr. Obama’s aides said is nothing surprising.

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