Donors among those ruling on delegates

More than a third of the Democratic Party committee charged with deciding the fate of Michigan and Florida delegates have donated to the campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Most of the money —more than $23,000 — has gone to Clinton, who wants the delegates counted to boost her uphill presidential bid, the analysis shows. Obama has received nearly $6,000.

"It's another example of the noxious mix of money and politics," said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation watchdog group. "To the general public, it has to be a surprise that people in a position to make such a critical decision are bound by their pocketbooks to particular candidates."

Donald Fowler, a committee member who has given $1,000 to Clinton, said it was "ridiculous" to suggest his donation would influence him. Fowler, a former party chairman, said the stakes are too high for panel members "to throw away the party's interests or their own integrity to placate a candidate."

The Rules and Bylaws panel of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) meets Saturday to decide how to apportion Florida's 211 delegates and Michigan's 157.

Florida and Michigan were stripped of their delegates for scheduling primaries earlier than national party rules allowed. Clinton won both contests. But neither Democrat campaigned in those states before the January primaries, and Obama took his name off the Michigan ballot.

The Clinton campaign concedes she still would trail Obama by about 100 delegates if the entire Michigan and Florida delegations were seated in Denver during the Aug. 25-28 convention. But Clinton would surpass Obama in total popular votes, possibly bolstering her argument to party leaders known as superdelegates that she is best positioned to win in November.

Clinton wants to seat the total 368 delegates from the two states. DNC lawyers, however, told the rules committee it could count only half the delegates.

Obama is 45 delegates away from the 2,026 now needed to clinch the nomination. The panel's decision would increase the number needed to clinch.

The 30 panel members are superdelegates. Thirteen have endorsed Clinton; eight back Obama. Nine are undeclared.

Overall, 11 have contributed campaign cash, according to the USA TODAY analysis.

Harold Ickes donated $4,600 to Clinton and serves as her campaign's chief delegate counter. He said it is hard to expect panelists to disavow their Clinton or Obama connections. "We are a political organization," he said. "I don't think you can, in all of America, find 30 Democrats who have not committed to a candidate."

Allan Katz has donated $2,300 to Obama and is one of his top fundraisers. "We are all Democrats who … want to win the White House," he said.

DNC rules do not bar members from endorsing candidates or contributing to their campaigns, said party spokeswoman Stacie Paxton.

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