Ronald Reagan was the first president to discover that he could get guaranteed bipartisan applause during his State of the Union addresses by inviting “ordinary Americans” with inspirational stories to sit with the first lady during the speech and be introduced to Congress and the nation. Since then, many of his successors have followed suit, including President Obama, whose guest list features public servants, amazing kids and odds-overcomers.
But along with two elected officials — Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and San Francisco Mayor Eric Lee, both Democrats — the people who will be sitting with Michelle Obama in the House chamber tonight includes some political donors. Political rookie Jason Collins, an NBA player, made his first campaign donations — mostly to ex-college roommate Joe Kennedy III — in 2012, the year before Collins made headlines by declaring that he is gay.
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Two other Obama guests — business owners Peter Mouskondis and Andra Rush — have both donated to candidates on both sides of the aisle, including to Obama presidential rivals. General Motors CEO Mary Barra, meanwhile, gives mostly to her company’s political action committee — which gives to pols in both parties but tends to tilt Republican.