- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 31, 2009

Prolific fundraisers, lobbyists and celebrities were among those who visited the White House during President Obama’s first nine months in office, according to records released Friday evening.

Entertainers including Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, top fundraisers such as Hill Harper, and lobbyists like Tony Podesta and Steve Elmendorf were among those admitted to the White House, according to the records, the first installment to be released since the administration agreed to a legal settlement that would for the first time allow the public to learn who was coming and going from the White House.

Billionaire George Soros, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, former Sen. Tom Daschle and Republican Newt Gingrich were also among those who stopped by.

The release of information comes on the heels of an investigation by The Washington Times that found the Obama administration rewarded scores of top Democratic donors with VIP access to the White House, private briefings with administration advisers and invitations to important speeches and town hall meetings.

High-dollar fundraisers were promised access to senior White House officials in exchange for pledges to donate $30,400 personally or to bundle $300,000 in contributions ahead of the 2010 midterm elections, according to internal Democratic National Committee documents. Those meetings have occurred away from the White House, and so would not be chronicled in the documents released Friday.

Also not among the records were those showing how many of Mr. Obama’s top fundraisers - “bundlers” who collected six-figure sums for the president’s campaign - visited, despite a request submitted by The Times on Sept. 30. The White House said that request was processed Oct. 1, thus would not be released until next month.

But top donors interviewed over the past several weeks have described visits to the White House, including one who said he was allowed a birthday visit to the Oval Office. Another was permitted use of a White House-complex bowling alley for his family. Bundlers closest to the president were invited to watch a movie in the red-walled theater in the basement of the presidential mansion.

Nonpartisan campaign-finance groups and ethics experts have expressed dismay at the practice, especially by a president who vowed repeatedly to reform the culture of Washington he said was muddied by donor influence and special interests.

The White House hailed the release as concrete evidence of Mr. Obama’s commitment to a more transparent White House. Prior administrations have fought hard to restrict the public’s ability to view so-called WAVES and ACR access records, which show the names of people entering the White House and typically identify whom within the White House the visitor is going to see.

“We’re the first administration in history that will soon provide a list of each and every person that visits the White House, something that’s never been done before,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs noted earlier this week.

Presidential aides said there has been no systematic effort to use the White House complex to aid fundraising, though they acknowledge the DNC has paid for some events at the presidential mansion.

Many guests at the White House not only had fundraising connections, but also have personal friendships with the president, Mr. Obama’s aides said.

“Contributing does not guarantee a ticket to the White House, nor does it prohibit the contributor from visiting,” said Dan Pfeiffer, deputy White House communications director.

The release of the logs included some familiar names that were not what they appeared. Logs showed visits by Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore and Jeremiah Wright, but the White House said none of them were the well-known figures with those names.

“A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings,” the release said. “Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few ‘false positives’ - names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else.”

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