November 09, 2009

Foundation Leaders Enjoy Access to White House

It seems foundation leaders are making house calls on the Obama administration.

As part of an effort to be more public about who is meeting with the president and other officials, the administration last month released the names of people who have visited the White House and the adjacent offices of the executive branch.

The list is not comprehensive and only covers the first six months of Mr. Obama’s term, but it shows at least eight philanthropy executives have made visits, some multiple times. (The names of other foundation leaders may appear on the list, but The Chronicle was unable to confirm them.)

The list includes Gara LaMarche, president of the Atlantic Philanthropies; Steve Gunderson, chief executive of the Council on Foundations; Luis Ubiñas, chief executive of the Ford Foundation; Carol Larson, chief executive of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; Darren Walker, Rockefeller’s vice president for foundation initiatives; and Sally Osberg, chief executive of the Skoll Foundation.

The executives say they visited the White House to discuss specific national issues related to their grant making and many attended a June event marking the start of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

Mr. Gunderson, who went to the White House and its nearby offices eight times, says the visits are a sign that the Obama administration is serious about its pledge to work with foundations.

“I jokingly say that I’ve been to the White House more times since January than during my entire 16 years in Congress! That says something about this administration’s commitment to partnership with philanthropy,” he writes in an e-mail message.

Mr. LaMarche, of Atlantic, says his nine or so visits include a lunch with Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, lunch with Cecilia Muñoz, director of intergovernmental affairs, a cocktail party, and a bill signing.

But he somewhat plays down his access to the halls of power.

“I am just pleased that I visited the White House seven times more often than Oprah,” he writes in an e-mail message.