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Obama Nominates Big Democratic Donors to Key Administration Posts


Democratic donors emerged from the extensive list of President Barack Obama's nominees for key administration posts, with private sector businessmen, college professors and other Obama boosters being named to ambassadorships and deputy secretary positions.

Many of the names on a White House announcement released Tuesday evening naming 29 nominees to various administration posts, donated to the campaigns of Obama and other Democratic candidates, according to donor data from Center for Responsive Politics (, which tracks money in politics. The bulk of nominees were career federal bureaucrats. While bringing in private sector experience may be what's needed in government, many of the particular nominees leave a money trail.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D- Fla., introduces President Barack Obama to speak in an overflow area at a campaign event at the University of Miami, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Coral Gables, Fla. Credit: AP


George J. Tsunis, the nominee for ambassador to Norway, is founder and CEO of Chartwell Hotels. From 1999 to 2009, Mr. Tsunis was of counsel at Rivkin Radler, LLP and served as partner since 2005. Since the 2010 election cycle, Tsunis has contributed $619,622 to Democratic candidates and political action committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That includes $2,500 to Obama’s campaign in 2012.

Tsunis donated $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee in 2012 and the same amount to the DNC in 2011. He contributed $30,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). He made the maximum $2,500 contribution to several other Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

It should be noted that in 2008, Tsunis actually supported many Republicans, donating a total of $4,600 to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, $28,500 to the Republican National Committee and tens of thousands to state Republican parties in Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Michael Anderson Lawson, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, has contributed $96,200 to get Democrats elected since the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lawson contributed $2,500 to Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. He also contributed more than $60,000 to the DNC. In 2007, he contributed $2,100 to Obama’s first presidential campaign, and also contributed $1,000 to Obama’s 2004 Illinois Senate campaign.

Lawson is the immediate past president of the Los Angeles World Airports’ Board of Airport Commissioners. He has been a member of the Board of Airport Commissioners since 2005 and held the position of President of the Commission since 2011. From 1980 to 2011, he practiced law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP where he served as partner since 1995.

Daniel W. Yohannes, nominated for ambassador to the Organizations for Economic Cooperation and Development, has been CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation since 2009. He contributed $2,500 to Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Yohannes was the vice chairman of U.S. Bancorp from 1999 to 2003.

Yohannes also contributed $2,300 to Obama during the 2008 general election. During the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Yohannes contributed $2,300 to Obama's opponent Hillary Clinton but still gave $1,000 to Obama's primary campaign.

Christopher Smith, the nominee for assistant secretary for Fossil Energy at the Department of Energy, contributed a total of $4,600 to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, according to CRP.

Smith is currently the principal deputy assistant secretary for Fossil Energy at the DOE, a position he took this year. Before that he was the department's deputy assistant secretary for Oil and Gas from 2009 to 2013. From 2002 to 2009, he worked in various executive positions at Chevron, and worked for Texaco from 1999 to 2002.

“I am grateful that these talented and dedicated individuals have agreed to take on these important roles and devote their talents to serving the American people,” Obama said, referring to all 29 nominees. “I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.”

Some nominees made only modest political contributions.

Anthony Luzzatto Gardner, the nominee for ambassador to the European Union, has been the managing director of structured finance at Palamon Capital Partners in London since 2007. From 2002 to 2007, Gardner worked at General Electric, a corporation that has been very close to the Obama administration. Gardner contributed just $500 to Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 and $250 to the campaign of New York Sen. Kristen Gillibrand. In 2007, he also contributed $1,000 to Obama’s Democratic presidential primary campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Beth F. Cobert, the nominee for deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) contributed $500 to the reelection campaign of Obama in 2012, but in 2007 contributed $500 to the campaign of Clinton in the Democratic primary. Cobert is currently a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, where she has worked since 1984. Before working at McKinsey & Company, from 1980 to 1982, she worked as an analyst at Goldman Sachs.

David Weil, a professor of markets, public policy and law at Boston University School of Management, was nominated to be the administrator for the Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor. Weil made three separate contributions to Obama's 2012 campaign of $250 each. He donated another $500 to the Democratic National Committee. In the 2008 election cycle, Weil made five separate contributions of $250 to Obama's campaign, and two more donations of $230 and during the 2004 election cycle contributed $800 to the Democratic National Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Richard G. Frank, the nominee for assistant secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services, has been a professor at Harvard Medical School, a position he has held since 1994. He was on leave from Harvard from 2009 to 2011 to work for the HHS Office on Disability, Aging, and Long-Term Care Policy. Frank contributed $400 to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and contributed $416 to the Democratic National Committee that year, according to CRP data. He then contributed $750 to Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.


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