Nearly 200 of President Barack Obama's top fundraisers have won political appointments to government posts, obtained federal contracts for their business interests or been invited to exclusive White House events, an independent watchdog group said Wednesday.
The Center for Public Integrity reported that Obama supporters who raised $50,000 or more for his 2008 presidential campaign have been tapped for ambassadorships, government jobs or unpaid advisory positions. The report also said that at least 19 fundraisers are connected to businesses that could benefit from government spending programs.
The practice of rewarding campaign contributors is hardly unusual. Political appointments typically go to supporters of a president because they are chosen to help him further his agenda. Obama, however, ran a campaign that promised to keep special interests out of his administration.
The White House said it has selected individuals for administration posts based on their qualifications.
"Being a supporter does not qualify you for a job or guarantee you a job, but it does not disqualify you, obviously," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The center's report found that 80 percent of Obama backers who raised more than $500,000 landed in administration posts. It also reported that about a third of the ambassadors he has named were political appointments, not career foreign service officers. That rate tracks with recent presidencies. Of the political appointments to ambassadorships, 24 were fundraisers, the report said.
Carney rejected the suggestion that money was a factor in government appointments.
"Those people are highly qualified individuals who happen to be highly successful in the things that they've done in life," he said.
He argued that the Obama administration has imposed tough ethical standards and that its activities have been more transparent than other administrations.
During his campaign, Obama released the names of more than 550 fundraisers who collected, or "bundled," $50,000 or more from contributors. The report said those fundraisers and their families, many of whom are friends or acquaintances of the president, also accounted for more than 3,000 visits to the White House for either meetings or social events.
One example cited by the report is Penny Pritzker, who was Obama's campaign finance chairwoman. Obama picked her to be one of 16 members of his Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board. When that board expired, Obama included her in his 26-member Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Pritzker is an heir of the Pritzker family that founded the Hyatt chain of hotels. She from Obama's hometown of Chicago.