October 27, 2011; New York Times | President Obama has several bundlers of donations that represent big corporations, such as David Cohen, a former aide to former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who now oversees lobbying for Comcast; Sally Susman, in charge of Pfizer’s lobbying operations; Alex Heckler, founder of LSN Partners; Michael Kempner, in charge of several lobbyists at MWW Group; and others. A couple were graduates of the high power Washington lobbying firms Greenberg Traurig and Blank Rome.
Is anyone truly surprised? In Washington, if someone isn’t a registered lobbyist, he or she might still be connected to a lobbying shop or to a corporation that does extensive Capitol Hill lobbying. So, for example, Kempner oversees lobbyists at MWW but isn’t a registered lobbyist himself.
In the list of the President’s top bundlers is a philanthropic bundler of sorts, one Andy Spahn, someone many nonprofits might long to get to know. Once the head of lobbying for Dreamworks, Spahn’s firm—Andy Spahn & Associates, Inc.—describes itself as “a strategic consulting firm that specializes in government relations, issue advocacy, public relations and strategic philanthropy”. The firm boasts as clients “high net worth, charitable foundations, corporations, trade associations and non-profit organizations seeking to expand their reach, deepen their impact and make a difference in their communities.”
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Spahn’s most significant high net worth clients—and longtime business associates—are Stephen Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg from his Dreamworks days, and he is still seen as their top philanthropic advisor. Several of Spahn’s top staff also come from Dreamworks with nonprofit track records, such as Jennifer Gonring, VP at Spahn’s firm and former director of charitable giving at Dreamworks.
Like Margery Tabankin who serves as Barbara Streisand’s philanthropic advisor, Spahn may associate with great wealth but he has a long resume in progressive politics dating back to the 1980s, when he was hired by Tom Hayden in the 1980s to run Hayden’s Campaign for Economic Democracy. Spahn has created Hollywood nonprofits such as the Environmental Media Association (promoting public awareness of environmental issues) and served on the boards of other nonprofits—before earning his appointment by President Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (serving alongside such Committee members as Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Wintour, Yo-Yo Ma, Forest Whitaker, Alfre Woodard, Edward Norton, and Teresa Heinz).
It makes sense that the go-to guy for Hollywood campaign dollars for President Obama would be the go-to guy for access to Hollywood’s charitable funds?–Rick Cohen