Sweet: Obama taps Jarrett, Rice, other pals, for JFK arts board

SHARE Sweet: Obama taps Jarrett, Rice, other pals, for JFK arts board

President Barack Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett, right, speaks during a Democratic Governors Association Meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington last year. (AP File Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Follow @lynnsweetWASHINGTON – President Barack Obama, with three days left, is still pumping out appointments – including some perks for pals – on Tuesday naming Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice as trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Under the headline, “President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts,” the Obama White House has announced appointments on 15 days since Nov. 3 – and there are still a few days before the Friday inauguration.

Through Obama’s two terms, he has handed out to his very best donors and friends ambassadorships, invites to state dinners and sought after appointments to the Kennedy Center and The United States Holocaust Memorial Council. Here’s how some of the perks worked out through the eight years, from the Chicago perspective.

Obama did not do any formal fundraising for his Chicago based Obama Foundation while in office – that is, directly making the ask for a donation.


Follow @lynnsweetThat did not stop him from cultivating contributors. Obama will start raising hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build and endow his Obama Center in Chicago sometime after Friday. But he won’t have presidential perks to dispense.

On Friday, the Obama Foundation released its latest list of donors. And of the 11 individuals or couples who have donated between $500,001 and $1 million, eight of them, according to a Sun-Times study, have been to state dinners or tapped for the Kennedy Center Board.

Disclosure: Sometimes the Obama White House had other reasons for inviting guests to State Dinners. To my surprise – even shock – I was invited to the state dinner to honor the Prime Minister of Singapore on Aug. 2. As a Sun-Times journalist who followed Obama’s rise from a U.S. senator to the White House, I fell into the invite category of “reporter who covered Obama for a long time.” Some other journalists who reported on Obama for years were also at that dinner.


Like all presidents, Obama makes appointments to the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees and to another group, the Kennedy Center President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

Jarrett and Rice were with Obama at the start of his 2008 presidential campaign and have been close, trusted advisers through the years. This is a nice good-bye perk that keeps them in the mix.

The unpaid Kennedy Center trustee posts – for six year terms – are considered plums because the Kennedy Center is one of the biggest entertainment venues in town – and its annual Kennedy Center Honors splash is packed with stars.

The Kennedy Center trustee appointments included through the Obama years folks with Chicago ties, including:

  • Colleen Bradley Bell, who Obama also named Ambassador to Hungary.
  • Fred Eychaner, the Chicago businessman who donated between $500,001 and $1 million to the Obama Foundation. Obama first appointed Eychaner to a six-year term in 2010; he re-appointed him to a second term on Nov. 21.
  • Barbara Goodman Manilow, a major Chicago philanthropist.
  • Penny Pritzker, who Obama also named Commerce Secretary. Pritzker was Obama’s 2008 campaign finance chair and is expected to be a major force in the development of the Obama Center.
  • Laura Ricketts, the Chicago Cubs board member who was one of Obama’s top fundraisers. The Chicago Cubs, honored at the White House on Monday, gave Obama a signed “W” flag to fly from the Obama Center.
  • Susan Sher, former chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama, now an executive at the University of Chicago who oversaw the school’s bid for the Obama Center. Sher is not a donor; she is a close friend of Jarrett.
  • Bryan Traubert, who is Penny Pritzker’s husband. Both Traubert and Sher are also on the board of the Partnership for a Healthier America, the non-profit created to bolster Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

Obama tapped for The Kennedy Center “Advisory” committee through years other Chicago area donors: Lester Coney, Cari Sacks, and Amy Singh. Sacks and her husband, Michael, donated between $500,001 and $1 million to the Obama Foundation; Michael Sacks is on the Obama Center board.

The Chicagoans who served as ambassadors in the Obama administration were all big donors or fundraisers: to Canada, David Jacobson, followed by Bruce Heyman; Andrew Schapiro, to the Czech Republic; Fay Hartog-Levin, to The Netherlands; Louis Susman to the United Kingdom; Wally Brewster, the Dominican Republic.

Obama on Jan. 6 named Susman to the board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Jacobson was tapped for the same board by the president on Nov. 29.

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