Will $500K Buy You Access to Obama?

President Barack Obama’s press secretary has denied reports that donating $500,000 to his political group guarantees a donor access to the president.

The president’s group, Organizing for Action, is looking to raise $50 million to achieve its goals of converting the successful 2012 Obama re-election campaign into a national advocacy network. Much of their advocacy appears aimed at supporting Obama’s second-term policies, including gun control, climate change, and immigration.

Big-money donors are seen as an important part of this group’s future. According to a New York Times article, giving or raising $500,000 puts donors on a national advisory board for the group and allows them the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president and other meetings at the White House.

Not surprisingly, this news had many questioning whether, in essence, those donations were purchasing donors time with the president. Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, denied this was the case. The denials, however, did sound somewhat flimsy.

“This is an independent organization,” Carney said when asked about Organizing for Action. “I would point you to that organization for how it raises its money.” Carney was also quoted as saying, “Administration officials can meet with them, including the president, but the fact of the matter is this is an independent organization that is supporting an agenda.”

Carney pointed out that Organizing for Action has legal limits on how it can interact with administration officials, that officials cannot raise money on behalf of the group, and they can only attend events in their official capacities.

Still, at first blush, this does appear to be suspicious, even if President Obama, his administration officials, and Organizing for Action follow the letter of the law. The president may be better off finding another incentive to bring big-money donors to his political group than one that makes it look like you can pay to see him — even if that’s not actually the case.

— Benjamin Nanamaker, InvestorPolitics Editor

The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.

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