Former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers took plenty of blame for the gate crashers at President Barack Obama’s first state dinner and for posing for fashion shoots in glossy magazines.
But a previously undisclosed gripe about her provides another explanation for her abrupt departure last month: Some of Obama’s biggest fundraisers, already chafing at not getting enough love from the administration, didn’t even get Christmas cards last year.
“The donors rose up, and that was another reason Desiree got pushed out,” said a source close to the White House.
Apparently the whole “party crashers” incident at the Indian State Dinner was not the only reason Rogers was quietly forced to resign last month; instead, some of the richest people in America, elite donors to the DNC, “rose up” to force her out because of what they perceived as a lack of appropriate glad handing and service by Rogers. Indeed, the hiring of Julianna Smoot, a longtime Democratic fundraising insider who had close ties to now-jailed Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu and who also ran the entire Obama 2008 record-breaking fundraising operation, was Obama’s “rallying call” to those rich, fat cat donors to pay up, ASAP:
The White House recently sent what could be a rallying call to its donors when it appointed Julianna Smoot, the president’s campaign finance director, to replace Rogers as social secretary.
Smoot brings a variety of strengths to the job: She’s detail-oriented, she’s a strong manager, and she knows both the political and the donor worlds.
President Obama apparently took this drastic action of installing his chief fundraiser for his Presidential campaign as social secretary, unprecedented in the history of the Presidency, because just 10% of the rich, elite donors who were assembled by Smoot to act as “bundlers” for the Obama presidential campaign in 2007 and 2008 have maxed out their contributions to the DNC this election cycle:
While such a slight may seem insignificant, it can carry major repercussions in a year when the Democratic National Committee is going to need every possible resource to help the party’s congressional committees stave off major losses in the midterm elections.
According to an analysis by POLITICO, only 15 — or just 10 percent — of the 150 biggest fundraisers for the Obama campaign gave the maximum $30,400 to the DNC last year.
Julianna Smoot, the new White House social secretary, has, of course, no substantive experience in managing a large executive offices’ day to day visitors and operations, as the White House social secretary is tasked with. This nakedly political power play by Obama, inserting his chief fundraiser into a position of control over every American’s access to the White House, could be construed as putting the proverbial fox in charge of access to the henhouse as Smoot’s main asset is her status as an “insider’s insider” and strong ties to rich Democratic donors and “bundlers”, i.e. those who find other maximum contributions to Democrats and “bundle” them to the candidate.
Smoot’s appointment as social secretary is another example of the disconnect between Obama’s actions (appointing his chief fundraiser and insider’s insider to control access to the White House) and Obama’s words (condemning “fat cat” bankers and “special interest” influence on Washington, DC). As the establishment media continues to deify and lionize Obama with every story they issue, very few in the media have bothered to even analyze these issues so far, and it appears the establishment media intends on giving the Obama Administration yet another pass regarding this transparent prioritization of some of the richest folks in America over access to the White House for the average American.
The promotion of Julianna Smoot to White House Social Secretary is good news for wealthy donors to President Obama’s campaign, for whom Smoot — the chief campaign fundraiser — is friend and point of contact.
Smoot, who had been working in the relative obscurity of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, will now be the key gatekeeper to the kind of social functions from which donors have complained that this administration, unlike President Clinton’s, has barred them.
But the choice to unite money and access in the person of Smoot — a career political fundraiser whose efforts were downplayed by a campaign eager to focus on small donors — cuts against both President Obama’s broader message of change and against the talking points of her departing predecessor, Desiree Rogers.
Rogers told Lynn Sweet that she saw her role as turning the White House into the “people’s house,” and Michelle Obama praised her in a statement for “welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers.”
Smoot may have the same goal, but her credentials and relationships point in the opposite direction: To ensuring access and satisfaction for the ultra-wealthy elite who will, incidentally, be called on to finance President Obama’s next campaign.
A White House official says appointing a fundraising staffer Social Secretary isn’t “outside the norm” because one of President George W. Bush’s Social Secretaries, Lea Berman, had been such a staffer, though not one of Smoot’s centrality.
On a frigid day in early January, Barack Obama rode the three blocks from the Capitol to a nondescript, four-story, white-brick building where he had rented a spartan office suite.
Obama pulled out a folding chair and sat down with Julianna Smoot, the veteran Democratic fundraiser he had hired to raise the millions of dollars he would need for a presidential bid. Smoot thumbed through a thin list of potential donors that Obama had gathered during his 2004 Senate bid in Illinois and as he helped other politicians raise money for elections in 2006. She frowned.
“It wasn’t much to work with,” Smoot recalled. “But that was how we started. He asked me what he should do, and I said, ‘Start calling. And don’t forget to ask for their credit card numbers.’ “
That was the beginning of a fundraising juggernaut that, perhaps more than any other single factor, helped transform Obama into a serious contender for the presidency. By the end of September, the senator from Illinois had raised more money for his primary bid than any other candidate in either party — more than $75 million. He did it not simply by using the new possibilities of the Internet, for which he has received considerable attention, but by creating almost overnight a network of “bundlers” — a core group of motivated supporters with the Rolodexes to bring along friends and associates.
Obama’s campaign offices are spread across the entire 11th floor of a Chicago high-rise. The finance team’s desks are scattered around a Ping-Pong table. Tabloid headlines — “Record Haul for Obama,” “Run for the Money” — are taped to the walls.
As the summer wore on, Smoot sat in the middle, tracking dozens of events around the country on her laptop. In a rolling series of phone calls with her regional fundraisers, she pushed and prodded them to hit their goals, then updated her spreadsheets so she could keep tabs on the quarter’s target.
Smoot apparently has little problem with associating with unsavory characters, such as now-imprisoned Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu. The two were quite close, has mutual “respect” for each other as Hsu served as one of Smoot’s “most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.” Smoot aggressively pursued Hsu on behalf of the Obama campaign, as noted by the 2007 WaPo “$75 Million Dollar Woman” piece:
Smoot knew Obama was not alone in pursuing potential fundraisers. Some were getting daily calls from presidential candidates. One potential bundler contacted by Smoot was Norman Hsu, one of the most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Hsu would later become mired in scandal as a top bundler for the Clinton campaign, but he was regarded at the time as a prime target because of his reputation for producing a steady flow of campaign cash.
In an interview — before it was reported that Hsu was a fugitive trying to outrun a 15-year-old conviction for running a Ponzi scheme — he recalled his call from Smoot. She asked what he thought of Obama’s bid and whether he might consider helping. “I told her, ‘You’re asking for an unbiased opinion from someone who is very biased.’ She knew I was loyal to Senator Clinton. I told her she was asking the wrong person. We both respected each other well enough not to talk about it after that.”
The NY Daily News detailed the various campaign fundraising crimes that Hsu was convicted of after his May 2008 trial, and at his sentencing (he received 24 years in jail), presiding Judge Victor Marrero declared that “Hsu’s dishonest use of political campaigns to perpetuate his fraud strikes at the very core of our democracy.” CNN reports on the sentencing:
NEW YORK (CNN) – A former Democratic fund-raiser who contributed to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was sentenced Tuesday to 292 months, or more than 24 years, in prison for fraud including campaign finance violations, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced.
“Norman Hsu betrayed the trust of his victims by stealing their money with false promises of fake returns in order to finance a luxurious lifestyle…Today’s sentence underscores our commitment to stop swindlers like Hsu in their tracks and bring them to the bar of justice,” Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
The sentencing breakdown includes 240 months in prison for wire and mail fraud charges and 52 months in prison for charges of campaign finance fraud. Judge Victor Marrero, who issued the sentence Tuesday afternoon at a Manhattan federal court, said in a statement, “Hsu’s dishonest use of political campaigns to perpetuate his fraud strikes at the very core of our democracy.”
Hsu, 57, was convicted in May on four counts of campaign fraud – one for each year from 2004 to 2007.
Earlier this year, Hsu also was found guilty on 10 counts of mail and wire fraud surrounding his investment practices.
He was indicted in 2007 after an investigation into his two investment companies.
When he was convicted in May, prosecutors said that Hsu not only swindled investors out of at least $20 million but also told some investors to make campaign contributions to the candidates he supported, and suggested that their investments could be jeopardized if they didn’t do as he asked.
Hsu has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the Ponzi scheme.
Tuesday, Barack Obama’s spokesperson said the Senator would not give up the donations received from Norman Hsu.
… spokesman Jen Psaki said Obama, who has criticized Clinton for taking contributions that could undermine her independence, had no plans to return Hsu’s donations.
Today, he’s had a change of heart.
A spokesman for Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is a rival of Mrs. Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination, said Mr. Obama intended to give away $7,000 that Mr. Hsu contributed to his committees.
Interestingly, the Newsday story quoting Jen Psaki used by Talkleft above is no longer an available link. Considering the return of the money raised by Hsu after the explicit Obama campaign acknowledgment to the Washington Post in September 2007 that Hsu brought a “major fundraiser” to Obama in the mid-2000’s, Hsu’s links to Obama were not insubstantial, making the choice of Smoot, who herself is closely tied to Hsu, an odd choice by Obama. Hsu received the longest prison sentence for campaign finance crimes in recent history, according to our searches, between the time Obama’s campaign returned some Hsu money in September 2007 and the appointment of Julianna Smoot today. Indeed, as Obama has railed against the “broken” Washington lately over the stalling of his health care plan (and as that battle heats up), the appointment of this fundraiser Smoot, who made Obama into a “serious contender” by using her stellar insider connections in 2007, and considering her not so stellar insider connections folks like Hsu, must be disappointing to those who are true believers in Obama’s “hope and change” mantra as well to centrist fans of good governance.
Obama’s comment on the Smoot appointment touches these familiar claims, saying that Smoot shares the Obamas’ commitment “to creating an inclusive, dynamic and culturally vibrant White House.” In response to Ben Smith’s article, an anonymous White House official played the familiar “Bush did it” card by defending Smoot’s appointment as not “outside the norm” because a Bush social secretary, Lea Berman, had been a low-level fundraiser. Of course, Berman was a not the central, chief fundraiser for Bush, like Smoot was in for Obama and as Smoot apparently will be for Obama 2012. Further, the White House Social Secretary’s job has never been filled by the top fundraiser of the President’s campaign, creating another “unprecedented” development from the Obama White House. We can only hope that Obama is correct in his assessment of Smoot, and that Smoot’s appointment does not signal an increase special interest and wealthy donor influence in the Obama White House as we approach the 2010 and 2012 elections. If Smoot couldn’t sniff out an ongoing campaign finance criminal enterprise that Hsu was engaging in as he served as one of Smoot’s “most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair” of the DSCC for the 2006 election cycle, a reasonable question can be asked as to whether Smoot should be in charge of access of other bundlers and everyone else to the Obama White House.