On Wednesday night, at the swanky St. Regis Hotel three blocks north of the White House, President Barack Obama will schmooze with his biggest donors and most avid grassroots supporters at a “founder’s summit” for Organizing for Action, the controversial pro-Obama nonprofit group. OFA will use the email lists, social networks, and cutting-edge technologies honed during Obama’s reelection campaign to try to galvanize Americans in support of the president’s second-term agenda.
But watchdogs and reformers are up in arms after the New York Times revealed that supporters who raise or donate $500,000 or more will score invites to quarterly meetings with Obama and other exclusive perks unavailable to run-of-the-mill Obama supporters. “Access to the president should never be for sale,” said Common Cause president Bob Edgar.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied there was a price tag to meet Obama, but he didn’t dispute the story detailing OFA’s $500,000 pitch. OFA had originally considered accepting corporate money as it tries to raise $50 million, but last week OFA director Jim Messina backtracked on that plan.
Obama is not the first president who will trade face time for big bucks. Buying and selling access is a long bipartisan tradition in American politics. Here are eight more of its most famous practitioners:
WHO: Andrew Jackson
HOW MUCH: As much as you could afford.
WHAT YOU GET: A job in the Jackson administration under the president’s spoils system.
MONEY QUOTE: “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy”— Sen. William Marcy
WHO: Warren G. Harding
HOW MUCH: $1 million
WHAT YOU GET: A seat at Harding’s poker parties and an invitation to overnight at the White House.
MONEY QUOTE: “It’s not my enemies…it’s my damn friends who keep me walking the floor nights!”— Harding, in the wake of the Teapot Dome scandal embroiling several of his biggest donors.
WHO: Lyndon Johnson
HOW MUCH: $1,000 minimum per year
WHAT YOU GET: Membership in the “President’s Club,” Johnson’s exclusive club of donors who get a “direct relationship” with the White House.
MONEY QUOTE: “Bearing the imprimatur of Lyndon Johnson, [the President’s Club] has no rules, keeps no minutes…and transacts no business that anyone talks about”—The New Republic, October 1966
WHO: Richard Nixon
HOW MUCH: $250,000 or more
WHAT YOU GET: An ambassadorship
MONEY QUOTE: “From now on, the contributors have got to be, I mean, a big thing and I’m not gonna do it for political friends and all that crap”—Nixon to his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, during a discussion on the price of an ambassadorship.
WHO: Jimmy Carter
HOW MUCH: $1,000 per corporation
WHAT YOU GET: A seat at a glitzy White House state dinner celebrating the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty
MONEY QUOTE: “It is hardly a proud Uncle Sam who takes off his tall hat in order to pass it”—a March 27, 1979, editorial in the New York Times.
WHO: George H.W. Bush
HOW MUCH: $100,000 or more as part of Bush’s Team 100 program
WHAT YOU GET: An invite to a black-tie dinner at the White House, an ambassadorship, or a job in the Bush administration.
MONEY QUOTE: “Quite a high percentage of [Bush fundraisers] who have been helpful haven’t gotten anything—at least 50 percent”—Bush’s chief fundraiser Robert Mosbacher
WHO: Bill Clinton
HOW MUCH: $50,000-$100,000
WHAT YOU GET: An overnight stay in the Lincoln Bedroom or dinner with Clinton at the White House
MONEY QUOTE: “The White House is like a subway: You have to put in coins to open the gates”—Johnny Chung, a Taiwanese-born businessman and major Democratic donor in the 1990s.
WHO: George W. Bush
HOW MUCH: $100,000 or more in funds raised for Bush’s 2004 campaign
WHAT YOU GET: An overnight stay at the White House or Camp David—or both
MONEY QUOTE: “It is so unbelievably exciting and unbelievable that you are staying in the White House. One hesitates to put a coffee cup down on the coffee table because there’s an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation under glass”—Donald Etra, a Bush donor who overnighted at the White House.