White House Visits from the Nonprofit Sector

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On December 30th, the White House released additional names of its visitors through the end of September. Some 26,000 visits are in the latest spreadsheets made available to the public.

Here are the problems:  According to the Sunlight Foundation, approximately 100,000 people visit the White House each month.  The numbers don’t match, even if you assume that the White House is deleting some names due to national security or privacy reasons.  We know plenty of people who have flexed their POTUS biceps claiming to be well ensconced at the White House, but they don’t appear on the visitation lists.  Either their reported self-importance was more puffery than potency, or the White House logs aren’t yet fully accurate (although they seem a lot more complete for September than for the previous eight months). 

The White House would do well to expand these lists to include columns that identify the primary organizational affiliation of the listed visitor and the purpose of the visit.  In some cases, there are minor descriptions of purposes (“OPL Cocktail party,” “Superbowl party”, etc.), but in many cases, the purpose box is blank.  We’d love to know what the specific purpose was of X or Y foundation executive’s meeting with the President’s Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett, for example, but we don’t. 

We also suspect that some of the reported White House meetings must have occurred outside of the White House, particularly with key people we know have been nominated for senior agency jobs who don’t appear to have had any meetings with top White House personnel. This can’t be so.  It may well be that simply showing up at the White House isn’t necessarily an indication of power and influence, except perhaps if you’re there 23 times like the SEIU’s Andrew Stern, several visits identified meetings with the POTUS, or 28 times like John Podesta of the Center for American Progress.

Nonetheless, for the convenience of NPQ readers, we’ve scanned the list online and counted a few more familiar nonprofit and philanthropic names that seem to have wandered in and out of the Obama White House for various and sundry reasons:

•    Representing Atlantic Philanthropies, Gara LaMarche has nearly a dozen counted visits, including three with Jarrett and one with Cecilia Munoz, the White House’s Director of Intergovernmental Relations and formerly a key lobbyist for the National Council of La Raza.

•    Steve Gunderson, the leader of the Council on Foundations, has 8 meetings listed through September, including one with Sonal Shah, Director of the Office of Social Innovation, and two with Tina Tchen, the Director of the Office of Public Liaison, basically a deputy to Jarrett.

•    There are lots of people named Ralph Smith, but a handful of meetings on the list are clearly meetings with Ralph Smith, the Vice President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the recent chair of the board of the Council on Foundations.  Many people think that Casey is likely to be a major player in the implementation of foundation-related White House initiatives such as the Social Innovation Fund, the Choice Neighborhoods program (at HUD), and the Promise Neighborhoods program (at the Department of Education). One of Smith’s personal deputies, Patrick Corvington, was chosen to lead the Corporation for National and Community Service, so Smith’s frequency at the White House shouldn’t be seen as surprising.

•    Several other foundation leaders show up on the spreadsheets as well:  Nancy Roob of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (one meeting); Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation (one meeting nominally with Jarrett); four meetings for Rockefeller Foundation VP Darren Walker (rumored to have been recruited unsuccessfully by the White House for a position); Luis Ubinas of the Ford Foundation (four meetings, including one with Jarrett); Jeff Raikes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates himself shows up for a couple of meetings too); Sally Osberg of the Skoll Foundation (one meeting); seven meetings for Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, including meetings with Valerie Jarrett and with Melody Barnes, the White House Domestic Policy Advisor; Carol Larson of the Packard Foundation (two meetings, including one with Jarrett); and Andrew Plepler (until recently, head of the Bank of America Foundation).

•    Brian Gallagher, president of the United Way of America, and Stacey Stewart, until recently, head of the Fannie Mae Foundation, but now director of the UWA’s Center for Community Leadership, were listed as having a meeting with Jarrett on September 16th.

•    From the nonprofit “infrastructure” that the Nonprofit Quarterly has monitored over the years, we spotted several meetings at the White House involving Deepak Bhargava of the Center for Community Change and Gary Bass of OMB Watch, among others. 

Presumably the foundation leaders are sharing their White House experiences with other foundation leaders, particularly as the White House designs programs to capitalize on foundation contributions of financial leverage and re-grantmaking.  One wishes that they and the other nonprofit leaders with access to the likes of Jarrett, Shah, Barnes, and the POTUS would also share their experiences with the nonprofit sector writ large.