This month, the White House extended invitations to more than 30 of the president's top fundraisers to an elaborate state dinner, where they mingled with celebrities and dined with foreign leaders on the South Lawn of the White House.
Other purposes for visits included one-on-one meetings with top West Wing staffers, such as former chief of staff Pete Rouse and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Those donors include so-called "bundlers" -- supporters who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece for Obama's re-election.
Across the Atlantic on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron released records of private meetings with his own donors who dined with him at 10 Downing St. Cameron's government initially refused to share details of the meetings. It changed course following the resignation Sunday of a fundraising aide caught boasting that he could organize access to Cameron in return for large donations. Cameron said the dinners were not intended to solicit funds for his party and were private meals with people he regarded as friends.
Obama's campaign has said it would begin encouraging supporters to donate to a "super" political action committee supporting him, Priorities USA Action, to counterbalance the cash flowing to GOP groups. The decision drew rebukes from campaign-finance watchdogs and Republicans who said Obama flip-flopped on his prior stance assailing super PAC money. The group supporting Obama has raised $6.3 million so far.
Visitor-log details of some of Obama's donors have surfaced in news reports since he took office. But the financial weight of super PACs and their influence on this year's election have prompted renewed scrutiny of the big-money financiers behind presidential candidates -- and what those supporters might want in return.
Many of the White House visits by donors came before the president embraced the big-money, fundraising groups he once assailed as a "threat to democracy" on grounds they corrode elections by permitting unlimited and effectively anonymous donations from billionaires and corporations. Obama was once so vocal about super PACs that, during his 2010 State of the Union speech, he accused the Supreme Court in its 2010 decision in the Citizens United case of reversing a century of law that would "open the floodgates for special interests." But the success of Republicans raising money changed the stakes.
Top donors to the super PAC supporting Obama, like Chicago investment manager John W. Rogers Jr. and Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, gave more than $150,000 combined to Priorities USA Action, according to finance reports, while also making repeated trips to the White House.
Rogers is a longtime Obama friend who contributed $50,000 in January -- nearly all the money the super PAC collected the entire month. Rogers was selected by the administration in October 2010 to head a financial advisory council, and visited the White House more than two dozen times since Obama took office, including one-on-one meetings with former chief of staff William Daley and Jarrett, Obama's senior adviser.
Two weeks before Rogers' contribution in January, Obama's campaign paid his firm, Ariel Investments, $600 for "event site rental," according to finance reports. An Obama campaign spokeswoman said the event was for a campaign retreat; a spokeswoman for Rogers did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails from the AP seeking comment.