Some Obama donors say they are not getting traditional perks

By Michael D. Shear and Dan Eggen
Friday, December 4, 2009

Some of President Obama's wealthiest supporters are becoming a bit whiny, and it has nothing to do with policy.

Tickets for tours of the presidential residence are scarce, even for those who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for last year's campaign. Private fundraisers tend to be brief, businesslike affairs. And there have been no sleepovers in the Lincoln Bedroom, weekends at Camp David or intimate lunches with the first couple.

Nearly a year into his presidency, that pattern has led some top Democratic donors across the country to grumble that they aren't getting the kind of personal attention from Obama and access to the White House they became used to during the eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency.

"I've had almost no communication with the White House," said Chris Korge, a top supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton from Miami who later collected $5.5 million for Obama, making him one of the president's biggest fundraisers.

Korge said his only visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was a St. Patrick's Day event. He complained in a recent interview that the administration has done little to reward the president's donors or tap into their experience and wisdom.

"There is no connection between the administration and money people," he said. "If they do have any connection . . . it is very limited as far as the fun stuff is concerned."

"You don't have the hang time with Obama," said Andy Spahn, a Hollywood consultant who joined with Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to become one of Obama's biggest bundlers. Spielberg and Geffen made their first visit to the White House at last week's state dinner for the Indian prime minister; Spahn was not on the list.

Obama donors have by no means been cut out completely, and Republicans and campaign finance activists argue that a president who set a different standard for himself by running against a culture of questionable ethics in Washington has still done too much for his financial backers.

Fewer rewards?

At least 30 of the president's 324 top bundlers -- those who raised $100,000 or more -- have been nominated for ambassadorships or other senior administration posts, including some of the most consequential and coveted American outposts. Some have also been given at least one opportunity to visit the White House, in venues such as the St. Patrick's Day party in March or the first formal state dinner last week.

Obama's 16 ambassadorial nominees this year include Donald S. Beyer Jr., a Northern Virginia auto dealer and former lieutenant governor, as envoy to Switzerland, and Louis B. Susman, a Chicago businessman dubbed the "Hoover vacuum" for his fundraising prowess, as ambassador to Britain.

"To some degree, he gets hoisted on his own petard, because he said he's not going to do business as usual," said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

But a review of appointments, visitor logs and other records shows that large bundlers account for only a small fraction of the hundreds of Senate-confirmed positions that Obama has moved to fill during his first 10 months in office. The numbers pale in comparison to Clinton's administration -- during which coziness with donors was legendary -- or to that of George W. Bush, who gave hundreds of jobs and other perks to wealthy supporters over the course of his presidency.

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