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Organization led by Obama bundler wins ‘promise zone’

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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An organization headed by a campaign bundler who raised nearly $744,000 for Barack Obama was named a lead partner in a major administration anti-poverty initiative.

Up to $500 million worth of grants and other incentives could be directed to central Los Angeles, an area which Obama recently designated as a “promise zone.” Dixon Slingerland’s non-profit group, Youth Policy Institute, will serve as the city’s lead partner in the program.

According to a New York Times list of top Obama bundlers published two months before the 2012 election, Slingerland helped collect nearly $331,000 for Obama in 2011 and 2012. Since 2007, Slingerland helped raise nearly $744,000 in total.

Bundlers like Slingerland help raise large amounts of money within the limits placed on individual contributions, currently capped at $2,600 per individual per election.

An example of Slingerland’s bundling includes co-hosting a party at the home of former “Knots Landing” actress Donna Mills, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a group that monitors the activities of political donors. The June 2012 party featured special guest Sharon Stone.

Los Angeles was chosen along with San Antonio, Philadelphia, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of southeastern Oklahoma as promise zones under a new Obama administration anti-poverty program.

The program doesn’t involve new money. Instead  promise zones will be given preferential status on grants aimed at alleviating poverty from federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Education.

To qualify for the program, promise zones have to have a poverty rate of greater than 20 percent with at least one census tract in the region having a 30 percent or higher poverty rate. Urban promise zones such as L.A.’s, which includes portions of Hollywood, Pico-Union, and Koreatown, are also required to have a population of between 10,000 and 200,000 to qualify.

Obama has said that he plans to designate 20 cities or regions promise zones by the end of his term. Thirty-one areas have applied for the title.

“There are communities where for too many young people it feels like their future only extends to the next street corner or the outskirts of town, too many communities where no matter how hard you work, your destiny feels like it’s already been determined for you before you took that first step,” Obama said during an announcement of the initiative last Thursday.

The idea is similar to the enterprise zones proposal championed by Republican Jack Kemp beginning in the 1980s.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul recently called for “economic freedom zones,” which the senator says will remove “the shackles of big government” by reducing regulations, tax rates and union work requirements in poor areas given the designation.

Obama gave a shout out to Paul during his announcement last Thursday saying that he’d been “very happy to see that there are Republicans like Rand Paul, who’s here today, who are ready to engage in this debate. That’s a good thing.”

But Paul contrasted his plan with Obama’s.

“Too often, when government picks the winners and losers we wind up with mostly losers,” he told The Daily Caller news Foundation.

“My plan will apply to any zip code where the unemployment rate is one and a half times the national average, regardless of political influence or connections. Freedom Zones differ from President Obama’s plan in that no one in Washington will decide who gets the money,” he added.

Records show that Slingerland visited the White House ten times between 2009 and 2012, including attendance at several holiday parties. White House records also indicate that Slingerland met with officials within the Office of Public Engagement, including Stephanie Valencia, Roberto Rodriguez and Jon Carson. Carson now heads Organizing for Action, Obama’s grassroots political campaign.

Obama has also rewarded his bundlers with ambassadorships and other government appointments. The Center for Public Integrity noted that 3 percent of the ambassadors appointed by Obama last year were bundlers. Others have been hired by federal agencies including the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy.

Candidate Obama was critical of jobs and access for big-time political donors. “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government,” he said in 2007.

Neither the White House nor Slingerland responded to TheDCNF’s requests for comment.

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