Obama's First State Dinner: High Rolling Top Donors, Bundlers Among Elites Invited

INDIAN-AMERICANS:

Obama also invited several prominent Indian-American businessmen who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democratic candidates' presidential campaigns.

Sant Singh Chatwal, one of the Indian-American community's biggest political fundraisers, backed Hillary Clinton over Obama during the presidential campaign. Chatwal, an entrepreneur who owns and operates hotels and restaurants in the U.S. and internationally, raised $2 million for the Clinton campaign at a single New York event two years ago.

Also invited was Vinai Thummalapally, Obama's former college roommate who the President appointed as the ambassador to Belize this summer after Thummalapally raised at least $100,000 for Obama.

Indian-Americans emerged as one of the most reliable demographics for Obama during the 2008 presidential election, voting for Obama nine to one and raising millions of dollars for his presidential campaign. Campaign finance watchdog groups said Democrats have spent years courting the Indian-American community, the most affluent ethnic group in America.

"This is an affluent community and an important one that the Obama campaign thought to address very directly," said Krumholz. "The Obama campaign in particular made specific overtures and fundraising activities for this community."

Individual Donors at State Dinner

Large individual donors at the dinner included Parag Saxena, formerly of Invesco Private Capital and now at New Silk Road Partners, who has given more than $150,000 to various Democratic organizations and candidates since 2004.

Krumholz said these donors and bundlers expect to be catered to and rewards are doled out "based on their generosity and commitment to politicians." For diplomatic occasions like state dinners, priority will go to diplomats, Krumholz said, but the elites will also gain access.

"For some donors it's a big ego thing, but for others it's business," said Krumholz. "What's troubling is that with access comes influence, which can be used to shape policy."

Several of the Obama fundraisers left the private sector to hold positions in the administration, including Fred Hochberg, formerly the dean of The New School for Management and Urban Policy, and the former Citigroup managing director Mike Froman, who now works for the National Security Council as Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic affairs. Chicago lawyer Tina Chen, now the director of the White House's Office of Public Liaison, bundled more than $200,000 for Obama.

The Obama administration faced questions about its treatment of big donors after the Washington Times reported last month that the White House has offered special VIP perks to several top Democratic donors, including access to the White House bowling alley and special briefings with senior administration officials.

A White House spokesman responding to the Times report defended its practices saying that contributing "did not guarantee a ticket to the White House, nor does it prohibit the contribute from visiting."

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