DETAILS OF MYSTERY MEETING WITH BIG DEM DONORS QUIETLY RELEASED
W.H. releases names at donor meeting
By JOSH GERSTEIN & MATT NEGRIN | 6/24/11 7:24 PM EDT
Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, former technology executive Bernard Schwartz and banking executive James Staley were among 30 well-connected figures in the business and finance world who met with President Barack Obama at the White House in March for an unusual economic discussion organized by the Democratic National Committee.
The White House released the names on Friday under a policy Obama instituted in 2009 to disclose nearly all White House guests approximately three months after they visit.
The March 7 meeting in the Blue Room of the residence has drawn attention and criticism because most of the attendees were donors or fundraisers and the session was arranged by the DNC. Good-government advocates said hosting the event at the White House was ill-advised.
“There’s a pretty clear line — or there should be a clear line,” Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, which presses for tighter controls on campaign finance, recently told POLITICO. “I don’t have a problem with the president inviting Wall Street people to the White House to discuss policy, but why does it need to be DNC-sponsored? I think that’s what raises the eyebrows. Even if it’s not a fundraiser, it’s a cultivation.”
In addition to the Wall Street financiers and business executives, the session was attended by Andy Tobias, the DNC treasurer; Patrick Gaspard, the former White House political director and current DNC executive director; and Brad Thompson, a DNC fundraiser who works with high-dollar donors and bundlers in New York.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week the White House is “very transparent” about its DNC-sponsored events. White House officials have described the meeting as a chance for Obama to solicit supporters’ views on the economy. However, Obama aides have not responded to queries from POLITICO about which Obama aides accompanied him to the meeting.
At a House hearing this week, two Bush White House ethics lawyers said the session raised questions under the Hatch Act, the federal law limiting political activity on federal property and by government officials.
“It is unclear why the Democratic National Committee would have been used to organize a meeting to solicit advice on the economy. Indeed, this meeting seems to walk a fine line between official and political with all of the attendant Hatch Act concerns,” Scott Coffina, who served as an ethics adviser to the Bush White House, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“I would never have agreed to having such a meeting going on in the White House itself, in any room of the White House,” said Richard Painter, who also served as an ethics counsel under Bush. “I know there’s controversy about that. But I would not want to see those meetings, quite frankly, going on on federal property. What the legal restrictions are is somewhat more ambiguous.”
Carney has said that the Blue Room meeting “was not a fundraiser” and that the DNC picked up the $68 tab for the event.
In addition, Obama aides note that the Democratic and Republican parties have sponsored events at the White House over the years. At least one of the annual Christmas parties is usually paid for by the DNC or Republican National Committee and attended by political guests, including donors. And in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney hosted a reception on the lawn of his residence for top Republican fundraisers.
However, President Bill Clinton sparked controversy when he and Vice President Al Gore hosted dozens of DNC-sponsored policy discussions — often called “coffees” — at the White House with Democratic donors and other supporters. At least some of the guests were told they could attend if they gave a specific amount, such as $50,000, to the Democratic Party. The so-called coffees were part of a broader flap involving donors being hosted overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Several participants in the March 7 session declined to comment publicly when contacted by POLITICO. However, attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the meeting was entirely or almost entirely devoted to discussion of the sluggish economy.
“There was a lot of concern about the markets and how so far we’ve avoided disaster, but we’re really not out of the woods here,” one participant said Friday. “All I remember was very substantive stuff about what to do with economy [and] markets, how to get jobs growing — good solid policy stuff.”
The Blue Room event, first reported last week by The New York Times, was not on Obama’s public schedule. Obama aides have noted that the public schedule does not list every meeting Obama has and that he is the first president to pledge to disclose the names of nearly all White House visitors.
Here’s a partial guest list for the meeting (POLITICO added the affiliations and descriptions):
Thomas Bernstein, co-founder of Chelsea Piers, L.P., and chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington (appointed by Obama in September 2010); and his wife, Andrea Bernstein Jon Corzine, former Democratic governor of New Jersey and former CEO of Goldman Sachs
James Dinan, founder of York Capital Management
Glenn Dubin, CEO of Highbridge Capital Management
Mark Gallogly, co-founder of Centerbridge Partners and a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board
Jeffrey Gural, chairman of the real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank
Michael Kempner, CEO at MWW Group and a member of the White House’s Council for Community Solutions
Sarah Kovner, longtime Clinton supporter and prominent New York liberal
Marc Lasry, co-founder and CEO of Avenue Capital Group
Margo Lion, of Margo Lion LTD, co-chairwoman of the Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities
Brian Mathis, co-managing member of Provident Group Ltd. and co-managing partner of Longship Capital Management, LLC
Richard Richman, runs real estate/investment banking/property management conglomerate The Richman Group; and his wife, Ellen Richman, a philanthropist and Pace University marketing professor
William Rudin, chief executive of the real estate company Rudin Management
Rick Schifter, partner at TPG Capital, formerly Texas Pacific Group
Bernard Schwartz, former CEO of Loral Space & Communications, philanthropist and backer of the Democratic Leadership Council
Jay Snyder, Democratic Party activist and philanthropist
James Staley, head of JPMorgan Chase’s investment bank