Emails show DNC's 'pay to play' donor scheme with White House

Emails from the Wikileak document dump reveal a scheme hatched by the DNC to get the White House to reward big donors with seats on various government boards and commissions.

While not strictly illegal, the documents gives us a glimpse at how the DNC sought to maximize its leverage with major contributors by using the White House to promise rewards for big contributions.

Open Secrets:

In an April 20, 2016 email, DNC National Finance Director Jordan Kaplan canvassed what appears to be the committee’s finance department – its fundraising office – for names of people (mainly donors) to reward with federal appointments on boards and commissions.

That email exchange yielded a list compiled by DNC Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer and emailed to Kaplan on April 26 titled “Boards and Commissions Names_Final,” which listed the names of twenty-three DNC donors and insiders.

Kaplan emailed the list to Amanda Moose, special assistant to the president for presidential personnel, later that day. In an email without a subject line, Kaplan wrote just one line: “For your review,” seemingly referring to a previous conversation or exchange.

Then on April 28, Kaplan missed a call with Moose. He emailed Comer asking for Moose’s number that afternoon, presumably to call her back. Comer sent Kaplan the number. It’s unclear if Kaplan and Moose spoke.

But the two may have spoken several days later; a May 3 email from Comer to Kaplan shows that Moose wanted to set up a “20 minute conversation” with Kaplan.

None of the individuals on the list have been appointed to boards or commissions since the email exchanges took place almost three months ago. A few were named to slots in previous years.

The White House strongly denied any link between financial support for the party and appointments.

“Being a donor does not get you a role in this administration,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz in an email to OpenSecrets Blog, “nor does it preclude you from getting one. We’ve said this for many years now and there’s nothing in the emails that have been released that contradicts that.”

The people on the list weren’t just hefty donors to the DNC; many also gave big money to Obama.

The practice of rewarding big donors with federal positions dates back to the times of the founding fathers.

Bob Biersack, who spent 30 years at the Federal Election Commission and is a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, said that “Big donors have always risen to the top of lists for appointment to plum ambassadorships and other boards and commissions around the federal landscape. This example shows that party fundraisers continue to see these appointments as an important tool in the donor maintenance process.”

"To the victor belongs the spoils" was a 19th century political adage that gave rise to the "Spoils System" - giving choice positions in the federal government to friends and donors of the winning candidate. In the Obama administration, the use of ambassadorships to appoint ignorant and incompetent Democratic party fundraisers has caused several international incidents and much hilarity at confirmation hearings where some of the donors had never even visited the nation they were being appoiinted to. 

Most of these boards and commissions are advisory in nature and come with a nice little stipend plus expenses. Given what we've seen from other Obama appointments, it's doubtful many of these appointees contribute very much to the functioning of government.

Both sides do it, of course, although George W. Bush at least made an effort to appoint mostly qualified people. That effort appears to be lacking in the Obama administration.


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