Obama Fundraisers-Turned-Ambassadors Are Back to Make It Rain for Biden

They were rewarded for their donations to Obama. Now they’re lining up to raise money for Biden.

Obama Fundraisers-Turned-Ambassadors Are Back to Make It Rain for Biden
Barack Obama and Joe Biden share a laugh during a pre-Olympic exhibition basketball game at the Verizon Center on July 16, 2012 in Washington, D.C.

On the heels of a big-money fundraiser hosted by Comcast’s top government affairs executive, Joe Biden’s recently-made-official presidential campaign has announced another ritzy affair, hosted by former Ambassador James Costos. A slew of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fundraisers will now raise money for Obama’s vice president, Biden, at Costos’ Los Angeles home on May 8.

Biden’s campaign announced a huge $6.3 million fundraising haul in the first 24 hours after he announced his campaign on Thursday, topping first-day totals of presidential contenders Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). The press release only listed the average online donation, $41, but not the average overall donation, which is definitely higher. By some calculations, Biden raised at least $3.3 million offline.

It costs $2,800 to enter the May 8 event, and if you raise $10,000, you can become a host. Among the hosts are four major fundraisers for President Obama’s 2012 campaign who were later rewarded with ambassadorships to Denmark, Hungary, Spain, and the United Nations. The ActBlue donation page for the event is here.

An emailed invitation to the fundraiser, obtained by Sludge, was sent by major donor Shefali Razdan Duggal, another host, who raised half a million dollars for Obama’s 2012 campaign. “We would genuinely be so grateful if you might consider joining us for one of these optimistic and inspiring experiences with Vice President Joe Biden,” she wrote.

An email invitation to Biden’s May 8 fundraiser obtained by Sludge

Duggal was appointed by Obama to oversee the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 2015, Duggal, set on getting an invite to an exclusive White House gathering, emailed the Democratic National Committee asking for a reminder of how much she had raised for Obama and the Democrats, including a “sweetly worded but insistent list of demands” such as an extra ticket to Biden’s holiday party.

Fundraiser host Costos and his husband, former White House interior designer Michael Smith, collected checks totalling at least $500,000 for the Obama’s 2012 campaign, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Then in June 2013, Costos became the U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra, where the couple enjoyed their 19th-century palazzo home. Costos, who was formerly a senior executive at HBO, was “instrumental” in arranging for the channel’s hit series Game of Thrones to film in Spain.

Television producer Colleen Bell, another host, raised at least half a million dollars for Obama in the 2012 election, hosted a fundraiser for him at her home, and donated $100,000 to Obama’s 2013 inauguration. She was nominated to be the ambassador to Hungary that year and took office in 2015 despite having what some members of Congress thought were thin qualifications.

Top Obama fundraiser and former Hollywood executive Rufus Gifford will also host the Biden fundraiser. In the 2012 election, Gifford was the Obama campaign’s finance director and oversaw a massive fundraising operation that helped the president win a second term. After his success with the campaign, Obama nominated Gifford to become America’s next ambassador to Denmark.

Gifford’s husband, “titan of fundraisingJeremy Bernard, became White House social secretary in 2011 after the couple raised tens of millions of dollars for Obama’s 2008 campaign through their consulting firm, B&G Associates.

“Show us the Jeremy dance,” the President said to departing Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, during a farewell ceremony for Jeremy in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 18, 2015.
Pete Souza/White House

A fourth ambassador is also hosting the fundraiser. Lawyer and TV writer and producer Amb. Crystal Nix Hines, who is attending with her husband, David Hines, was Obama’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an ambassador position confirmed by the Senate. Hines raised between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign and at least $500,000 for his 2012 effort.

Another host couple is medical technology CEO Joe Kiani and his wife, Sarah Kiani, a member of the company foundation’s board, who bundled at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012, bundled for Clinton in 2016, and donated between $500,000 and $750,000 to the Obama Foundation in 2017. The PAC of Kiani’s company, Masimo, which makes medical monitoring devices, donates to both Democratic and Republican candidates and in the 2018 elections gave more than twice the amount of money to GOP campaigns than it did to Democrats. Recent recipients of Masimo PAC donations include Tea Party favorite Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who said he didn’t care about federal criminal charges against President Trump because “he’s doing a good job as president.”

Kiani has more ties to the Clintons, having given $1 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, where he sat on its Executive Council. Bill Clinton recently gave the keynote address, his seventh in a row, at the annual gathering of a nonprofit Kiani founded, the Patient Safety Movement Foundation. In 2014, the foundation gave Clinton $315,000 for his speech. Biden has also given speeches at the nonprofit’s events.

None of the other Biden fundraiser hosts are listed as former ambassadors, but most of them have bundled checks for Obama. Among them are:

  • Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg (at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012)
  • Political consultant Janet Keller (at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012; bundled for Clinton in 2016)
  • Doug Hickey, Obama’s Commissioner General of the USA Pavilion in Italy (between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama in 2008; at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012; bundled for Clinton in 2016). Hickey hosted a DNC fundraiser featuring Biden at his San Francisco home in 2013.
  • Public relations and consulting firm owner Lena Kennedy (between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama in 2008; at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012; bundled for Clinton in 2016)
  • Tech entrepreneur Cookie Parker (between $200,000 and $500,000 for Obama in 2008; at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012; bundled for Clinton in 2016)
  • Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon (between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama in 2008; at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012)
  • Media executive Peter Chernin (between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama in 2012; bundled for Clinton in 2016)
  • Media executive Eric Ortner (between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama in 2012). He was a senior leader on Obama’s 2012 campaign and a member of Obama’s Entertainment Advisory Council. He was also a member of Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities from 2015-17. His father, Chuck, bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign.
  • TV producer and entertainment management CEO Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and entrepreneur Jon Vein (between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama in 2008; bundled for Clinton in 2016). Jon Vein was on the national finance committees of Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns and Clinton’s 2016 campaign. He’s also a trustee adviser to the Clinton-aligned think tank the Center for American Progress.
  • Actress Jessica Harper and Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Rothman (between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama in 2008). Rothman was CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment for a number of years when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owned it.
  • Former HBO president Michael Lombardo and partner Sonny Ward (bundled for Clinton in 2016). Lombardo has hosted fundraisers for Obama and Clinton in the past.
  • Sony executive Eric Paquette and his wife, screenwriter Jessica Postigo (between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama in 2008)

Also joining the party is Google co-founder, Alphabet adviser, and Obama donor Eric Schmidt, another host, who is on the board of a data and political consultancy, Civis Analytics, that Biden’s campaign has hired.

Other major Democratic Party donors hosting the affair include Hollywood talent agency founder Chris Silbermann and Spectrum leader Julia Franz, who bundled checks for Clinton in 2016. In 2015, Obama attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser that Silbermann hosted.

California Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein’s husband, investment banker Richard Blum, will also host the gathering, as will Hollywood director Rob Reiner.

As Democratic presidential candidates such as Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, rack up campaign bundlers, others are rejecting the practice entirely. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), who is a prolific online fundraiser, and California Democrat Andrew Yang don’t have any bundlers. Democrats Marianne Williamson and Mike Gravel don’t plan to have any.

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