Internal discussions of the May 18 event with Obama and other aggressive efforts to woo major donors reveal how the drive for big money consumes the political parties as they scramble to keep up in the age of super PACs.
The DNC emails show how the party has tried to leverage its greatest weapon — the president — as it entices wealthy backers to bankroll the convention and other needs. At times, DNC staffers used language in their pitches to donors that went beyond what lawyers said was permissible under a White House policy designed to prevent any perception that special interests have access to the president.
Top aides also get involved in wooing contributors, according to the emails. White House political director David Simas, for instance, met in May with a half-dozen top party financiers in Chicago, including Fred Eychaner, one of the top Democratic donors in the country, the documents show.
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Laws and ethics
White House officials said Obama’s attendance at DNC events is well within the law and the administration’s own ethics policies.
“As presidents of both parties have done for decades, President Obama takes seriously his role as the head of the Democratic Party,” White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said in a statement. “To this end, the President participates in a range of events to raise awareness and support for the party, and to outline his priorities for making progress for the American people, in line with federal election and ethics laws.”
The leaked emails reveal the relentless art of donor maintenance that undergirds the system: the flattery, cajoling and favor-bestowing that goes into winning rich supporters. It’s a practice that the party fundraisers themselves often find dispiriting.
What the scene in Philadelphia looks like as it readies for the DNC
View Photos Protesters, Bernie Sanders supporters march through the City of Brotherly Love before the start of the Democratic National Convention.
“He’s just awful and if I could have him sitting outside of the room, I absolutely would have,” a DNC finance staffer said of one Florida donor attending the May 18 event with Obama.
DNC finance officials did not respond to requests for comment. A party spokesman said the DNC had “revolutionized online fundraising and worked to rein in the influence of special interests” during Obama’s time in office. The spokesman said the DNC, while seeking to broaden its donor base to keep up with the Koch brothers and other wealthy conservative interests, had taken steps to “prevent any improper attempt to influence government policy.”
The DNC and its Republican counterpart have both stepped up their hunt for huge checks since a series of legal changes in 2014 gave them leeway to collect expansive contributions for new accounts to pay for building, legal and convention expenses.
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The top-tier donor package for this week’s Democratic National Convention required a donor to raise $1.25 million or give $467,600 since January 2015, according to a document in the emails. In return, a contributor got booking in Philadelphia at a premier hotel, VIP credentials and six slots at “an exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials,” according to the terms.