Center wins first Pulitzer!

Black lung investigation honored

Get more award-winning investigations:

Obama bundlers closely tied to influence industry

President's anti-lobbyist pledge doesn't deter power brokers from fundraising

By

 Updated:

President Barack Obama prides himself on rejecting donations from registered lobbyists, but a newly released list of campaign fundraisers is peppered with leaders from companies and law firms that lobby the federal government.

New bundlers, whose names were released this week, include Anthony Welters, executive vice president of UnitedHealth Group, and Qualcomm co-founder and former chairman Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan.

Each raised at least $500,000 for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that includes Obama’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and party committees in several battleground states.

The exact amounts are unknown. The campaign only divulges bundlers’ fundraising activity in broad ranges, with a top category of “more than $500,000.”

Qualcomm has spent at least $6 million each year since 2007 on federally reportable lobbying efforts, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. UnitedHealth spent at least $2.5 million annually in the same period.

None of these individuals were bundlers for Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. However, Welters’ wife, Beatrice, raised between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Bundlers are elite political fundraisers who turn to relatives, friends and business associates to raise large sums and deliver the funds in a “bundle” to the candidate. They are often given perks and special access — both on the campaign trail and once politicians are elected.

Beatrice Welters was one of about two dozen bundlers who were named ambassadors during the president’s first term. Welters was appointed to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, a post from which she resigned last November.

There’s nothing illegal about registered lobbyists contributing to a presidential campaign, as long as those donations are reported. But Obama’s campaign went further and voluntarily rejected such contributions. Still, some of his bundlers lead or work for law firms that also provide government lobbying services, although they are not lobbyists themselves.

Other newly disclosed bundlers include:

  • Andy Sandler, the chairman and executive partner at BuckleySandler, which provides legal counsel and lobbying services for the financial services industry. He bundled between $50,000 and $100,000. Records indicate that his firm’s several recent lobbying clients have included the California-based East West Bank, Virginia-based Genworth Financial and the Electronic Signature and Records Association.
     
  • Walter White, a London-based partner at the multinational legal powerhouse McGuireWoods, who bundled between $50,000 and $100,000. White is the head of McGuireWoods’ emerging markets transactions practice, according to his official bio. McGuireWoods’ current lobbying clients in the United States include Alpha Natural Resources, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Duke Energy, Progress Energy and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), according to federal records.
     
  • Jim Black, a Germany-based partner at the law firm White & Case, who bundled between $100,000 and $200,000. Black specializes in equity capital markets and mergers and acquisitions, according to his official company bio. Domestically, White & Case’s several lobbying clients include the National Association of Publicly Traded Partnerships.
     
  • Rick Mayo-Smith, the managing director of Indochina Land, who bundled between $100,000 and $200,000. Indochina Land is the real estate division of Indochina Capital Corp., one of Vietnam's leading financial services groups.

The White House directed inquiries to Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign and Obama’s new nonprofit advocacy group, Organizing for Action. Hogan did not respond to requests for comment.

Overall, the Obama campaign reaped financial riches from 769 bundlers, who collectively raised more than $186 million. Twenty-eight of these bundlers moved into higher dollar categories during the fourth quarter of 2012, the new disclosure reveals.

Another newly listed Obama campaign bundler is Imad Husain, Obama's freshman-year roommate at Occidental College, who is now a banker in Boston. Husain raised between $50,000 and $100,000, according to the campaign.

Hollywood is also represented among Obama’s newly identified top fundraisers, with super couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith collecting more than $500,000. While hardly a professional lobbyist, Pinkett Smith last year pressed lawmakers to take a stand against human trafficking and forced labor, testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations with her husband present.

They join the ranks of previously identified bundlers such as pop star Gwen Stefani and Warner Brothers CEO and Chairman Barry Meyer.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign did not volunteer bundler information, releasing only the names of registered federal lobbyists who bundled, as federal law compelled it to do. Nearly six dozen lobbyists collectively raised more than $17 million for the Republican’s unsuccessful presidential bid, as the Center for Public Integrity previously reported.

While Obama is safely in the White House for another four years, his chase for cash may not be over.

These elite moneymen and women could be tapped to fundraise for Obama’s presidential library, and are already being pursued by Organizing for Action, which is promoting the president’s legislative agenda over the next four years.

Organizing for Action will host a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., next week where a minimum contribution of $50,000 is required to attend, Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday.

Obama’s nonprofit group will, on a quarterly basis, voluntarily disclose the names and donation amounts of contributors giving $250 or more, Organizing for America National Chairman Jim Messina wrote Thursday in an opinion piece posted on CNN.com.

The group, to date, has not revealed any donors.