Though President Barack Obama called super PACs a "threat to democracy" before embracing them last February in his own reelection effort, he and members of his inner circle had no trouble meeting with the kind of people who contribute to them. At least 16 individuals who gave money to some of the major outside spending groups had meetings with White House officials--including Obama himself.
The group of 16 includes major Democratic donors, bundlers for Obama's campaign and a few individuals who have official roles in the administration. Some have frequent access to both the president and his inner circle, visitor logs released by the White House show. Six of them have given to Priorities USA Action, the super PAC started by former White House officials that's supporting the president's reelection effort, while others have given to groups working to elect congressional Democrats.
As the money race continues in the 2012 election, big donors, fundraisers and friends of Obama are steering money to super PACs. An analysis of White House visitor logs shows the names there intersect with those on lists of contributors to major Democratic super PACs--including Priorities USA Action; Women Vote!, a super PAC working to elect Democratic women to the House and Senate; the House Majority PAC and the Majority PAC, which are focusing on supporting Democrats for the House and Senate, respectively; and American Bridge 21st Century, which was established in November 2011.
One Massachusetts couple is a case in point. Reinier Beeuwkes III, president of the pharmaceutical company, Ischemix, and his wife Nancy, a retired nurse, are longtime Democratic donors and fundraisers--in the current election cycle, they've contributed a total of $259,300 to federal candidates and the Democratic Party. The Beeuwkes attended a White House reception with President Obama on Dec. 16, 2010, White House visitor records show.
In October 2011, the Beeuwkes, along with a few other major Obama donors, co-hosted a fundraiser that, according to the invitation, offered “an engaging briefing to discuss the critical elements of independent political progressive infrastructure that will be required to assure Democratic victories in 2012,” and featured David Brock, founder of the American Bridge 21st Century super PAC, as a speaker. That month, the Beeuwkes made the first of some $475,000 in contributions to six major Democratic super PACs, including a $100,000 check sent to Priorities USA Action on February 27, 2012, a few weeks after Obama changed his position on the vehicles. They weren't alone--Michael Thornton, who was also listed as a co-host of the super PAC fundraiser, made his second $25,000 contribution to American Bridge; altogether, he's given the group $100,000.
Like the Beeuwkes, Lawrence Fish is a prominent donor from the Northeast. He's chairman of Citizens Financial Group, Inc. a bank holding company, and also serves on the board of luxury jewelry company Tiffany & Co. In addition to his $25,000 donation to Priorities USA, he’s also an Obama bundler and has helped raise $314,330 this cycle, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Records show that he was at the White House three different times, and met with the president on Dec. 12, 2011. A week later he met at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with Zach Portilla, then assistant in the office of presidential personnel who's now leading the Futuro Fund, an Obama campaign effort to raise funds from Latinos. Fish was present at another meeting on Feb 18, 2012 with Lauren Kelly in the Office of Public Engagement. Unfortunately, the logs do not include important information such as a description of the meeting, so what they might have discussed is unknown.
Robert Roche’s ties to the Obama camp run even deeper than Fish's. A bundler for the campaign, Roche is also an advisory board appointee in the administration and co-chairs Technology for Obama, a major fundraising initiative to raise funds from the tech industry. In addition to his participation in the Obama fundraising drive, he has also been a frequent giver to the president's campaign committee; this cycle, he’s given the maximum $5,000 to Obama for America, and $50,000 to the presidential super PAC, Priorities USA, in mid-February.
Roche, founder and Chairman of Acorn International, a Chinese telemarketing company, was nominated in September, 2010 to the president’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, which offers private sector advice to the U.S. Trade Representative. Roche’s name appears several times in White House visitor logs. Other than the few meetings with USTR staff, Roche met with William Daley, the president’s chief of staff at the time, who stepped down in January 2012, and with Peter Rouse, who served as an intermediary chief of staff after Rahm Emanuel stepped down to run for the mayor’s seat in Chicago. Roche also met with Victoria McCullough, who works in the public liaison office and was with the Obama campaign in 2008.
Obama has shown a fondness for old friends from the Windy City like Emanuel and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. Another close friend and basketball buddy, John Rogers, has gone on to an appointed position as the Chair of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability in 2010. A founder of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, the nation's first black-owned mutual fund company, Rogers’ connection to Obama goes back to when the president served in the Illinois Senate, where he encouraged the state pension fund to give more opportunities to minority-owned companies such as Ariel Investment. In 2008, Rogers was the co-chair of Obama’s Inauguration Committee and headed the Illinois Finance Committee for Obama’s campaign. Rogers is also a bundler and has raised $193,598, so far, for Obama’s campaign. He's also kicked in $50,000 to Priorities USA Action.
Rogers met the president in the White House on two occasions, on August 5, 2011 and on February 24, 2012. He also met with Jarett and Daley.
List of super PAC donors and their White House visits.