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Thursday, June 16, 2011

A White House spokesman Wednesday said fundraising prowess has nothing to do with getting a good job in the Obama administration, despite a report showing the president gave key posts to about 80 percent of his big-money "bundlers" from the 2008 campaign.

"I didn't raise a half a million dollars," presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "I didn't raise any money. I'm standing here."

Mr. Carney was a journalist with Time magazine before accepting a job with the administration.

But many influential and wealthy people have landed administration jobs after raising at least $500,000 for Mr. Obama's campaign. The Center for Public Integrity found that about 200 people, nearly 80 percent of Mr. Obama's elite fundraisers or "bundlers," got key administration posts. The group's iWatch News division said half of those jobs were ambassadorships.

For example, Telecom executive Donald H. Gips of Level 3 Communications raised the requisite amount and was later named ambassador to South Africa. His firm received $13.8 million in federal stimulus money. Mr. Gips said he was unaware of that development.

Another bundler, venture capitalist Steven Westly, was appointed in August to a board that advises the Energy Department.

A year before Mr. Obama tapped him for the post, four firms in which his company invested received about $510 million in grants and loans from the Energy Department.

Rewarding big contributors is nothing new in presidential politics. Republican George W. Bush first made use of bundlers in his 2000 campaign.

In his first term, about 40 percent of the nearly 250 fundraisers ended up with jobs or appointments, including 23 ambassadorships and three Cabinet posts.

By Mr. Bush's re-election campaign in 2004, bundlers known as "Pioneers" were given the job of raising at least $100,000, and "Rangers" were those who raised at least $200,000 each.

Mr. Obama pledged in the run-up to the 2008 campaign to fix the system of public financing of presidential elections, though he rejected public financing and overwhelmingly outspent Republican nominee John McCain.

He also railed against the corrupting influence of big-money lobbyists and the pay-to-play culture of Washington.

Mr. Carney said repeatedly Wednesday that raising money for Mr. Obama had nothing to do with getting a job with the White House.

"The people who got those positions got them because of their credentials," he said. "Being a supporter does not qualify you for a job or guarantee you a job, but it does not disqualify you, obviously."

Don Beyer, a car dealer from Alexandria, Va., became ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Mr. Obama's ambassador to London, Louis Susman, is a retired investment banker and longtime friend with no previous diplomatic experience.

Some bundlers' qualifications are obvious. Julius Genachowski, who heads the Federal Communications Commission, served as the FCC's chief counsel in the Clinton administration.

In all, 560 bundlers collected a total of at least $76.5 million for the Obama campaign in 2008. Mr. Obama raised about $750 million, shattering fundraising records.

The report also said bundlers and their families have had more than 3,000 White House meetings and visits.

The president's re-election campaign is relying on bundlers to an even greater degree.

The campaign's goal for 2012 is to enlist 400 or more of these top fundraisers to raise at least $700,000 each for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

While running for president in 2007, Mr. Obama decried "the cynics and the lobbyists and the special interests who've turned our government into a game only they can afford to play."

"They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills," candidate Obama said. "They get the access while you get to write a letter. The time for that politics is over."

Mr. Carney drew a distinction between lobbyists' influence on legislation and bundlers' plum jobs.

"That's a lot different from the problem that exists in Washington, existed in Washington, with special interests having lobbying success here in terms of the effect that has on legislation," he said.

"We believe that we've taken important measures that qualify the praise that this administration has gotten for its high ethical standards."

He used as examples the White House release of visitors logs and restrictions on lobbyists.

Mr. Obama did limit lobbyists' access to top government jobs, although he issued waivers for some appointees whom he said he couldn't do without.

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