WASHINGTON -- There are two lessons to be learned from the past month when it comes to donating money to powerful political leaders: You can't ask people for money in exchange for direct access to the president, but you'll gain direct access to the president if you give a lot of money.
Both of those scenarios played out last month. In an embarrassment for British Prime Minister David Cameron, a senior member of his administration resigned on March 24 after he was caught on tape offering people access to Cameron for as much as £250,000, or the equivalent of about $400,000.
"Two hundred grand to 250 is premier league …. What you would get is, when we talk about your donations the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron/Osborne dinners," Tory Party Co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas said while being secretly recorded by undercover reporters. "You do really pick up a lot of information and when you see the prime minister, you're seeing David Cameron, not the prime minister. But within that room everything is confidential. You can ask him practically any question you want."
Less than two weeks earlier, President Barack Obama threw an extravagant White House party packed with Hollywood celebrities, key members of his Cabinet and, yes, scores of the president's biggest donors. More than 40 of his most prolific contributors -- many of whom have already bundled a minimum of $500,000 each for his 2012 campaign -- were guests at the March 14 state dinner that was, coincidentally, honoring Cameron's visit to the United States.
All combined, donors who landed invites to the White House party have already bundled at least $10.9 million for Obama's 2012 campaign, according to a review of data on the Center for Responsive Politics. Those same donors also bundled at least $5.2 million for Obama's 2008 campaign. As the site explains, people who "bundle" money for a candidate -- collect big checks from supporters and submit them all to the campaign in one big bundle -- have spotty disclosure requirements and only have to report that they contributed "$500,000 or more" if they raised any amount higher than that.
There were many perks of getting an invite to this particular party, one of the most lavish that's taken place since Obama arrived in the White House. Attendees had access to Obama and the vice president, as well as top officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) were also there.
Some big-ticket donors even earned a seat at the head table with Obama and Cameron. Sitting alongside actor George Clooney and billionaire Warren Buffett were Obama's bundlers Francisco Lopes and Chad Griffin. Lopes, the chairman of the investment management firm Landmark Partners, Inc., bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama's 2008 campaign. Griffin, the new president of the Human Rights Campaign, has already brought in between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama's 2012 campaign.
Here's a look at some of Obama's other big bundlers who got invites to the March 14 White House party -- and direct access to the president and top administration officials. The amount of money that bundlers donated to Obama's campaigns can be found at the Center for Responsive Politics -- click here for statistics from his 2008 campaign, and here for statistics from his 2012 campaign.
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