Donors to Obama Foundation have had private dinners at White House

Donors to Obama Foundation have had private dinners at White House
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More than a dozen of the 39 named donors to the Obama Foundation have visited the White House for exclusive gatherings and events, according to a new report from the transparency group MapLight.

The foundation was set up in 2014 to fund Obama’s presidential library in Chicago and surrounding endowment programs and needs to raise up to $1 billion to reach its goals.

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The Obama Foundation has raised roughly $7.3 million since its inception, according to tax forms, and 15 of the 39 named donors have received invitations to small meetings with the president.  

In fact, every donor whose family or foundation had given more than $100,000 met with Obama at the White House, according to the review by MapLight, a non-profit research organization that tracks money in politics. The group looked at White House visitor records, the foundation’s website and its tax returns.

Donors who have met with Obama include the actress Julia Roberts and her cinematographer husband Danny Moder; private equity executive Mark Gallogly and his wife Lise Strickler; and Tom Campion, the founder of clothing retailer Zumiez, and his wife Sonia.

They all attended a private gathering at the White House in January, MapLight found. The visit went unnoticed because it was not listed on Obama’s public schedule.  

Gallogly and Strickler had donated $340,000 to the Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems face tricky balancing act after Mueller report Grassroots America shows the people support Donald Trump MORE Foundation before the event, while the Campions had contributed $500,000. 

The unlisted meetings have raised questions as to whether Obama is fundraising for his foundation while in office. While that would not be illegal, the White House says the president is doing no such thing.

“The president has made a commitment that he will not be raising money for the foundation while he’s still in office,” top Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.

“What we have said about donors to the campaign also applies to donors to the foundation and it is simply this: Donating in support of the president’s foundation does not guarantee you a meeting with the president of the United States,” he said. “It also doesn’t prevent you from getting a meeting with the president of the United States.”

Reporters on Tuesday noticed Alibaba founder Jack Ma leaving the White House, though there was no mention of a meeting with him on the public calendar. Ma is the second-richest man in the world. 

"Because it was a private lunch," Earnest said on Wednesday when asked about the meeting. “It's not uncommon for the president to have a private lunch with people that you might find notable.”

Obama and Ma had met at a forum during the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Malaysia last fall, Earnest said.

Still, major donors have found an open door at the White House.

In March 2012, The Associated Press looked at 470 of Obama’s most crucial financial supporters and compared it to the more than 2 million White House visitors since he became president.  

At least 250 major fundraisers, bundlers or donors had visited the White House for dinners, small events or “one-on-one meetings with senior advisers,” the AP analysis found. 

Gallogly, who co-founded the Wall Street firm Centerbridge Partners, has been to the White House grounds 122 times since 2009, according to the MapLight report. In addition to his Obama Foundation giving, he had also been a donor to Obama’s presidential campaigns and served on two of the president’s economic advisory councils.

Another hedge fund executive, Jim Simons, and his wife Marilyn gave $340,000 to the Obama Foundation in 2014 and chipped in an additional $330,000 last year.

The duo also co-founded the Simons Foundation, which helps fund mathematic and scientific research through academic institutions.

The family first visited the White House last March, where they attended an intimate dinner with Obama, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt and “a handful of prominent scientists and mathematicians,” according to MapLight.

The next month, Marilyn Simons met with Meredith Drosback, the assistant director for education and physical sciences in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.