But she is also trailed by some controversy, accused in court of defrauding a businessman out of $657,000, impersonating a bank official and dodging creditors.
Assongba disputes the allegations, but the mysteries around her personal life highlight a challenge for Obama’s reelection effort and other presidential campaigns. The astronomical cost of running for the White House requires an army of bundlers, many of whom are strangers to the campaign. And as candidates quickly learn, it is no small task to woo — and vet — those citizen fundraisers.
Presidential hopefuls in the past have suffered through months of scandal-by-association when reports of tarnished donors have surfaced.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign agreed in 2007 to return $850,000 in contributions gathered by Norman Hsu after it became known he had evaded arrest on charges of leading an illegal investment scheme.
Last month, the Obama campaign said it would return $200,000 in donations from the Chicago-area brothers of a Mexican casino magnate linked to violence and corruption.
Alerted to questions about Assongba, the campaign acknowledged that it was difficult to scrutinize all of its bundlers and other donors. Officials said they would look into Assongba’s background and determine whether the campaign should return her donation.
“More than 1.3 million Americans have donated to the campaign, and we constantly review those contributions for any issues,” said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “Some issues are easy to identify, others more difficult, but once an issue has been raised, we address it promptly, as we will do in this case. ”
Bundlers’ names released
Obama is the only presidential candidate this season to release a formal list of his bundlers, a move that offered more transparency but also opened his campaign to added scrutiny.
Like many other bundlers, Assongba came to the attention of the campaign because of her donations to the party.
She and her husband, Anthony J.W. DeRosa, had given $40,000 to Democratic House and Senate campaign committees starting in 2009, federal records show. Photos that previously appeared on her Facebook page show her and her husband standing shoulder to shoulder with Obama at a Democratic fundraiser in New York in May 2010.
Campaign staffers routinely check volunteer fundraisers for legal and public relations problems, using simple Internet searches and other available public records to turn up potential issues. In Assongba’s case, nothing prompted the campaign to turn her away.
But even a cursory look into her background reveals that Assongba does not fit the typical mold of a well-to-do bundler.
Assongba, who declined to comment, is dogged by a collection agency and a court order to pay more than $10,000 in unpaid rent for her former Brooklyn apartment, court records show.
In court documents, Assongba denies many of the allegations, and a lawyer she hired to handle media inquiries declined to comment. DeRosa said in an e-mail that the allegations are incorrect.