WASHINGTON — A new study details how President Barack Obama has been inviting his Obama Foundation donors to events at the White House, a venue that obviously won’t be available to him to entertain mega contributors in a few months.
The Obama Foundation, created on Jan. 31, 2014, has to date only 39 contributors, with the money coming either from individuals or foundations controlled by Obama supporters.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Maplight Foundation found that 15 of the 39 have been to the White House for small meetings or events, fewer than 30 attendees, including everyone connected to a contribution of more than $100,000.
Most of the donors have been longtime political supporters and friends — or at least acquaintances of Obama — and have been in and out of the White House for years.
However, Maplight found that at an intimate White House dinner in January 2015 with actress Julia Roberts, the guests included two couples who had recently made jumbo contributions to the Chicago-based foundation.
And as 2015 progressed, one of the couples at the dinner kicked in even more, the foundation IRS report released last Friday reveals.
Among those at the January 2015 dinner were Mark Gallogly, the managing partner of Centerbridge Partners, an investment firm, and his wife, Lise Strickler. At that point, the New York couple had donated $340,000 to the foundation.
By the end of 2015, they put in an additional $330,000 for a total of $670,000. I checked to see what else was new: Gallogly and Strickler were invited to the State Dinner the Obamas hosted in March for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In 2014, Tom Campion, owner of the Zumiez clothing chain and his wife, Sonya, gave the foundation $500,000. The Seattle couple found themselves at the Julia Roberts dinner along with folks who have also been longtime Obama backers. Another guest that evening was one of Obama’s favorite authors, Marilynne Summers Robinson.
The White House has said — and underscored this again on Wednesday at the daily briefing when asked about the Maplight report — that the Obamas are not fundraising for the foundation while in office. Well, no one is selling tickets to anything, that’s accurate. That’s not how fundraising at the mega level is done.
Obama will have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to construct and endow his Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side. Fundraising at the elite donor level is an art, a nuanced dance, especially for an institution that will exist in perpetuity.
Small dinners are not put on Obama’s daily guidance and schedule. On April 2, 2016, the White House volunteered that Obama and first lady Michelle hosted their first White House event for supporters of the Obama Foundation. That dinner was not a fundraiser, the White House said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said: “What we have said about donors to the campaign also applies to donors at the foundation, and it’s simply this: Donating in support of the President’s foundation does not guarantee you a meeting with the President of the United States. It also doesn’t prevent you from getting a meeting with the President of the United States, and that’s the approach that we’ve taken, again, with regard to supporters of the President’s campaign, and it’s the approach that we’ve taken with regard to supporters of the President’s foundation.”
A lot of this is prospecting for the future.