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Obama Transition Donations Explained

By Ed O'Keefe

The Eye has heard from some of the federal workers that have donated money to the Obama-Biden Transition Project, following a report earlier this week about their contributions. The donations of roughly three dozen federal employees, mostly rank-and-file types, account for 2 percent of the project's total take so far.

"The Obama-Biden campaign had been such a brilliant mobilization of the grassroots, of community organization, that it seemed a terrible tragedy to now allow lobbyists to exert their moneyed interests," said Sarah Spaulding, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver. "I struggled over whether my contribution would even count against such forces, but in considering all the brave people that took a similar step to get involved in the Obama-Biden campaign, I knew I had no choice but to contribute what I could afford."

The transition does not accept donations from corporations, labor unions, and political actions committees and caps donations at $5,000. Registered federal lobbyists and registered foreign agents also cannot donate. But people felt compelled to give.

"We felt that the less special-interest money involved in the process, the better," according to David Devault, an Ohio-based natural resource damage assessment coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service. He'd never donated to a presidential transition before, but has donated in the past to Democratic campaigns. "I know that people I talk to, everyone's thrilled" about Obama, he said.

Valerie Nicholson, a USDA employee in Plano, Texas was surprised to learn that the donor list was public record. "I donated because I supported him. That's it," she said.

Others were inspired by the president-elect's rhetoric.

"I am convinced that the Obama administration is truly looking at changing the way the business of government is done in Washington and is committed to making this the most transparent and open transfer of power in American history," said Dr. Walter I. Knausenberger, a senior regional environmental adviser with USAID, based in Nairobi, Kenya. "We need much more balance in views brought to bear in government -- civil society, cultural, economic, and business should be represented to achieve sound decisions in a complex world in which one-sided perspectives and world-views can be balanced."

While all of these federal employees donated to the transition as private citizens, it is still interesting to note who gave to the next president. The transition will continue to accept donations through the Inauguration, and The Eye will continue to keep watch on the donor list.

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 4, 2008; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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