Elections

DNC emails: Behind the scenes look at care of big donors

In May, after yet another State Dinner at the White House passed, major Democratic donor Cookie Parker dashed off a frustrated email that was forwarded to Democratic Party officials about her failure to receive any coveted invites or board appointments.

“I have been patient and not kicked up a stink because it is not my style. But as the Obama Administration winds down, I am feeling very down about this,” wrote Parker, founder and owner of KMS, a Los Angeles software company. “I raised a lot of money for the DNC for both cycles … and here I sit venting and feeling very much under appreciated.”

On another occasion, days before a coveted State Dinner for Nordic leaders, Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz asked White House officials if they could find an extra ticket for another major donor, Florida lawyer Mitchell Berger.

On yet another, Erik Stowe, the DNC finance director for Northern California, outlined benefits given to different tiers of donors to the Democratic convention: priority booking at high-end hotels and tickets to major convention events and exclusive VIP parties.

Those were among the examples of special care - and sometimes special scrutiny - of major donors that were in thousands of leaked emails hacked from the DNC.

Many showed that while the White House often denies donors are given special treatment, the donors demand and expect it. And staff at the Democratic National Committee worked to reward donors with tickets to White House events and seats next to President Barack Obama based on a contributor’s financial generosity, many times after they blatantly asked for perks.

About 20,000 emails were released Friday by WikiLeaks, which provided a searchable database of correspondence of seven DNC officials between January 2015 to May 2016. McClatchy could not independently verify the emails.

The White House and the DNC did not respond to requests for comment. Berger said he was grateful that Wasserman Schultz tried to get him into a State Dinner, though she was unsuccessful and he still has never been. He said both Democrats and Republicans try to reward donors. “It’s not necessarily an unusual thing thing for political parties to do,” he said. “This is my 11th presidential election. It’s not unusual.”

Other donors could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The emails include those that raise questions about the organization’s impartiality during the Democratic presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, which cost chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz her job Sunday, and show how the DNC coordinated its message with others and responded to inquiries from journalists, including those at McClatchy.

The emails also show several instances where Democratic staffers disagreed about which donor was more worthy of the reward.

In one exchange, National Finance Director Jordan Kaplan and Mid-Atlantic Finance Director Alexandra Shapiro argue which contributor should be allowed to sit next to Obama at a DNC event.

Kaplan told Shapiro to move Maryland ophthalmologist Sreedhar Potarazu and give the seat to New York philanthropist Philip Munger because he is the largest donor to Organizing for America, a group that pushes Obama’s policies. “It would be nice to take care of him from the DNC side,” Kaplan wrote.

But Shapiro explained that the Potarazu family had contributed $332,250 while Munger had only donated $100,600.

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In another email, Michael Rapino, chief executive officer and president of Live Nation Entertainment, wrote that he assumed he received an invitation to the Nordic state dinner because he was not happy to be passed over the previous time.

“I know they are trying to make it up to me bc I would not donate to his party said I was done with demo party bc they should have invited me to the Canadian state dinner given I am Canadian,” he wrote to a consultant, who passed the message to the DNC.

On another occasion, the emails showed several DNC staffers busy searching for a photo from a 2015 Kennedy Center Honors reception of Obama and a donor. They couldn’t find one but the donor kept contacting them. The last email noted, “The donor just emails me again. Any news?”

Yet another email noted that Democrats were trying to connect with donor Gus Arnavat, who served in the Obama administration as the executive director for the United States on the Inter-American Development Bank and could help them meet other donors. “He is working with a group of ambassadors who want to be in Philadelphia and coordinate their own event,” DNC communications director Luis Miranda explains in an email to a convention official.

In the hunt for dollars, the DNC was sometimes, but not always, willing to overlook potential donors with questionable backgrounds, the emails show.

The DNC approved the attendance of Roy Black, a Miami-based attorney who has represented singer Justin Bieber on a driving under the influence charge; the founder of the sexually-charged “Girls Gone Wild” video series; baseball star Alex Rodriguez in a 2013 steroid case; and conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.

In a May 12, 2016, email, DNC finance assistant Karina Marquez asked the committee’s vetting operation to review Black as one of six possible hosts for an Obama event. Black was approved to host an Obama event in 2007.

Kevin Snowden, a DNC deputy compliance officer, wrote in a May 12, 2016 email that “the only issue is Roy Black. New issues have come up since his last vet in February 2016.” White House aide Bobby Schmuck agreed in a May 12 email that Black shouldn’t host the event but it would be “fine” for him to attend.

The DNC vetted George Lindemann Jr. after he was convicted of three counts of wire fraud in 1995 in connection with a federal investigation into insurance fraud and horse killing.

“Finance asked us to vet as potential POTUS host/donor,” Chadwick Rivard, senior research supervisor, compliance, for the DNC, wrote in a May 9, 2016, email to DNC staffers and Schmuck.

An email with summary research notes on Lindemann said that after serving 21 months in prison he “has attempted to rehabilitate his image with philanthropic activity” and has made “sizeable contributions to Democratic and Republican candidates, committees and PACs. A few of these contributions have been returned.”

Schmuck sent an email to Claytron Cox, a DNC regional finance director, and wrote that Lindemann, Jr., “fails for everything.”

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid

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