As Democrats prime their fundraising machine for 2010 midterm elections, their biggest rainmaker is the man in the White House. Mega donors are scoring invitations to exclusive White House affairs, access to senior officials - even the executive office bowling alley, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, in partnership with the Washington Times.
The practice is controversial, but not unusual. Presidents Clinton and Bush offered big donors perks and special invitations.
Obama supporter Lanny Davis says the president has little choice but to continue business as usual - even though Obama as candidate implied things would be different.
"When it comes to fundraising I never heard Barack Obama say 'I believe in unilateral disarmament.' So long as Republicans are raising money we have to raise money, and we won the White House, we ought to take advantage of that," Davis said.
Watch Attkisson's interview with Davis
Some donors are longtime friends of Mr. Obama's. His buddies Eric Whitaker ($8,550) and Marty Nesbitt ($50K) watched the Super Bowl at the White House movie theatre.
Hassan Chandoo (at least $100K), Wahid Hamid (at least $100K) and Lutfi Hassan (at least $50K) were invited to a White House banquet.
For others, there's no longstanding friendship that binds them, just the money they've brought in as giant fundraisers called "bundlers."
Robert Wolf of banking giant UBS golfed with the president at Martha's Vineyard in August. He raised at least $500,000.
Dozens of bundlers were invited to a lavish St. Patrick's Day reception, 17 to the president's Wall Street speech.
Several bundlers, who didn't wish to be named, describe invitations to use the executive office bowling alley with family and friends, and a surprise birthday visit to the White House to see the president.
The White House says there's no correlation between donations and White House access.
White House Defends Perks for Top Donors
"Hundreds of thousands of people have visited this White House since the president came in," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "And I think the president has returned to a stance of transparency in ethics that hasn't been matched by any other White House."
But documents from the DNC, the fundraising arm of the Democratic party, spell out exactly what the deepest pockets can buy.
Read the First DNC Document
Read the Second DNC Document
Those who raise "$300,000 before the 2010 midterm elections" get quarterly meetings with "senior members of the Obama Administration... twice-monthly conference calls... (and) contribute to shaping policy agendas." In other words, the kind of access most Americans can only dream of.
We showed the documents to former chairman of the Federal Elections Commission Scott Thomas.
"It's okay to have a big bash and people can have a nice piece of rubber chicken but where you actually start drawing people in who have given the money to the policy discussions - I think there ought to be some way to draw a line there," Thomas said.
Watch Attkisson's interview with Thomas
Critics may throw stones, but don't look for either party to voluntarily stop use of what many call the biggest fundraising advantage available - the White House.
Watch Attkisson's interview with Brad Woodhouse, DNC Communications Director:
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