- Associated Press - Monday, March 26, 2012

President Obama is using privileged access to one of America’s greatest landmarks to reward his most generous financial supporters in ways that Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum can’t match.

More than 60 of Mr. Obama’s biggest campaign donors have visited the White House more than once for meetings with top advisers, holiday parties or state dinners, a review by the Associated Press has found.

The invitations to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which are legal, have happened despite Mr. Obama’s past criticisms of Washington’s pay-for-access privileges and mark a reversal from early in the president’s term when donors complained he was keeping them at arm’s length.

As a presidential candidate running against Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Obama’s campaign noted that Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had invited David Geffen - whom Mr. Obama’s campaign said had raised $18 million for the Clintons - to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom.

The AP found no evidence of Mr. Obama’s own donors sleeping overnight in the White House, but time stamps showing arrivals and departures on the government’s logs are incomplete for more than 1.7 million records.

The AP’s review compared more than 470 of Mr. Obama’s most important financial supporters against logs of 2 million visitors to the White House since mid-2009. It found that at least 250 of Mr. Obama’s major fundraisers and donors visited the White House at least once, being cleared for events like dinners or one-on-one meetings with senior advisers.

This month, the White House extended invitations to more than 30 of the president’s top fundraisers to an elaborate state dinner, where they mingled with celebrities and dined with foreign leaders on the South Lawn of the White House.

Other purposes for visits included one-on-one meetings with top West Wing staffers, such as former chief of staff Pete Rouse and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Those donors include so-called “bundlers” - supporters who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece for Mr. Obama’s re-election.

Mr. Obama’s campaign has said it would begin encouraging supporters to donate to a “super” political action committee supporting him, Priorities USA Action, to counterbalance the cash flowing to Republican groups. The decision drew rebukes from campaign-finance watchdogs and Republicans who said Mr. Obama flip-flopped on his prior stance assailing super PAC money. The group supporting Mr. Obama has raised $6.3 million so far.

Visitor-log details of some Obama donors have surfaced in news reports since he took office. But the financial weight of super PACs and their influence on this year’s election have prompted renewed scrutiny of the big-money financiers behind presidential candidates - and what those supporters might want in return.

Many of the White House visits by donors came before the president embraced the big-money, fundraising groups he once assailed as a “threat to democracy” on grounds they corrode elections by permitting unlimited and effectively anonymous donations from billionaires and corporations.

Mr. Obama was once so vocal about super PACs that he used his 2010 State of the Union speech to accuse the Supreme Court justices, present in the audience, of reversing a century of law that would “open the floodgates for special interests,” including foreign corporations, in its Citizens United case.

A White House spokesman did not fully respond to repeated requests from the AP for details of visits by Mr. Obama’s campaign donors, saying it was impractical to do so.