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Obama Donors Getting Lots of Face Time in Fiscal Slope Meetings

The President and senior Administration officials have met with lots and lots of people about the fiscal slope in the wake of the election. Everyone, in fact, but most of the House Republican deciders who will determine the bulk of the deal. But as it turns out, many of the meeting attendees included Obama campaign bundlers. Membership has its privileges, after all.

A West Wing meeting with Obama on Wednesday afternoon included Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who bundled between $100,000 and $200,000 for Obama’s campaign; Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, who gave $20,000 to the DNC; and Archer Daniels Midland CEO Patricia Woertz, who gave more than $33,000 to Obama and the DNC combined, Federal Election Commission records show.

On Nov. 16, according to Bloomberg News, Obama attended an unpublicized meeting with a group of financial leaders, most of whom were his top campaign financiers. The list of participants includes at least six bundlers — including UBS Americas chairman Robert Wolf and Centerbridge Partners founder Mark Gallogly — who each raised half a million dollars or more for a second Obama term, according to the president’s campaign.

“It certainly looks like the president is rewarding his top bundlers with White House meetings on this critical issue,” said Mary Boyle of Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that promotes greater government transparency.

Plenty of attendees gave to Mitt Romney, too, and I think the public has the full expectation that those who donate the most get rewarded with access. The real question concerns what these individuals want out of their close proximity to the President. We actually know who bundled for the Obama campaign because the campaign released it – an action not shared by the Romney campaign.

But let’s take one individual “business leader” in the midst of these talks, and look at his real agenda. Ben Hallman profiles Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman:

James Gorman, Morgan Stanley’s chief executive, wrote a note to his 16,000 employees this week to urge them to pressure their elected congressional representatives to pursue a compromise to avert the looming financial budgetary crisis known as the “fiscal cliff.”

But even as he called for a “balanced solution,” lobbyists who represent Gorman’s bank were fighting to preserve an exemption that allows the company to enjoy a lucrative tax break unavailable to most Americans.

Morgan Stanley is one of about two dozen companies — mostly banks, but also large U.S.-based multinational companies with financing arms such as Ford Motor Co. and General Electric — that support a little-noticed tax exemption that allows businesses that earn interest on overseas lending to defer paying U.S. taxes on that income indefinitely. This “active financing” exemption technically expired at the end of 2011, but Congress, at the urging of bank lobbyists, is expected to extend it once again. The two-year cost of extending the tax break is an estimated $11.2 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

This obviously is the exchange that we expect out of campaign donations and access. Morgan Stanley supports a “balanced approach,” and as a result they get a completely imbalanced tax break that saves them billions.

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David Dayen

David Dayen