Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, Im Renee Montagne.

Politicians are trying to fatten up their coffers before the end of the month. That's the next deadline for campaign fundraising reports in this year before the presidential election. Candidates want those reports to prove they're viable contenders so they can attract more money.

President Obama and the first lady have been busy with fundraising events. They attended half a dozen in just this past week, including small gatherings with top-dollar donors. A new analysis reveals the cozy relationship between Mr. Obama and some of those high rollers.

NPR's Peter Overby reports big donors in the 2008 campaign often wound up with plum jobs in the administration.

PETER OVERBY: The analysis comes from the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity. It looks at the 2008 Obama backers who were also bundlers. In the business, that's what they call givers who solicit money from other supporters.

Mr. FRED SCHULTE (Reporter, Center for Public Integrity): Well, we found that nearly 200 of the bundlers had obtained administration posts for themselves or their spouses.

OVERBY: That's Fred Schulte, at the Center for Public Integrity. He's one of three reporters who worked on the project. He said the jobs the bundlers got ran the gamut.

Mr. SCHULTE: Ambassadorships to foreign countries, to positions on advisory boards that help make policy, to staff jobs in places like the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, and other federal agencies.

OVERBY: Bigger bundlers did better. In the top tier, each bundler delivered at least half a million dollars in contributions to the campaign. And 80 percent of them went into the administration, often as ambassadors.

When the Center for Public Integrity released the report, critics were quick to recall how Candidate Obama had attacked lobbyists and special interests in his February 2007 announcement speech.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): They write the checks and you get stuck with the bill.

(Soundbite of crowd response)

Sen. OBAMA: They get the access while you get to write a letter. They think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

OVERBY: White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to brush off the report.

Mr. JAY CARNEY (Press Secretary, White House): The fact that individuals who have been appointed also supported the president is hardly a story.

OVERBY: When reporters pressed him, he defended the hires.

Mr. CARNEY: Being a supporter does not qualify you for a job or guarantee you a job. But it does not disqualify you, obviously.

OVERBY: Now, it's hardly breaking news that presidents reward their financial backers. President George W. Bush looked after members of his Pioneers and Rangers bundling teams. President Bill Clinton touched off a scandal with his favors to big donors. President George H.W. Bush gave appointments and policy considerations to his Team 100 big donors.

It's also not news that a presidential candidate would count heavily on big donors and bundlers, especially as a campaign got rolling. In fact, for all the attention given to Mr. Obama's small contributors in 2008, those who gave $200 or less accounted for just half as much as those who gave $1000 or more - that is, the kind of donors who are sought out by bundlers.

Professor MICHAEL MALBIN (Executive Director, Campaign Finance Institute, George Washington University): It's likely that he raised every bit as much from bundlers as he did from small donors.

OVERBY: That's Michael Malbin. He's director of the Campaign Finance Institute at George Washington University, which number-crunched the campaign finance reports.

Everything about the Obama campaign fundraising was larger than life; more small donors than any previous campaign, more big donors and more bundlers too.

Dr. CRAIG HOLMAN (Legislative Representative, Public Citizen): He's relying on big money folks like no one has ever done so before.

OVERBY: That's Craig Holman of Public Citizen. The liberal advocacy group has tracked presidential bundlers for three elections now on a web site called WhiteHouseForSale.org. Holman points out that Mr. Obama has taken steps to avoid some of Washington's power and money issues. He wouldn't take campaign money from PACs or lobbyists. And once in office, he ordered up tough revolving door restrictions and more transparency rules.

Dr. HOLMAN: Even though he's being, you know, run largely by money, he is making a massive effort to try to avoid any serious conflicts of interest.

OVERBY: The efforts seem to be making a difference, at least so far. When the cable news shows run those slow-mo shots of administration figures in trouble, they have yet to include any high-rolling bundlers from the campaign.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: