Obama names 110 White House visitors
Most guests still hidden; list includes Bill Gates, Oprah, Newt Gingrich
White House visitor logs
By Bill Dedman
updated 19 minutes ago
Msnbc.com investigative reporter Bill Dedman
The White House on Friday released a small list of visitors to the White House since President Barack Obama took office in January, including lobbyists, business executives, activists and celebrities.
No previous administration has released such a list, though the information out so far is incomplete. Only about 110 names —and 481 visits —out of the tens of thousands who have visited the Obama White House were made public. Like the Bush administration before it, Obama is arguing that any release is voluntary, not required by law, depsite two federal court rulings to the contrary.
Under the Obama White House's policy, most names of visitors from Inauguration Day in January through the end of September will never be released. The White House says it plans to release most of the names of visitors from October on, and that release is due near the end of the year. There are limitations there as well, including potential Supreme Court nominees, personal guests of the First Family, and certain security officials.
The names released Friday include business leaders and lobbyists with a lot to gain or lose from Obama policies. They include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates (whose foundation is pushing for changes in teacher pay), Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Chevron CEO David O'Reilly, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, JP Morgan's James Dimon, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis, labor leader Andrew Stern of the Service Employees International Union, American Bankers Association CEO Ed Yingling, community bankers president Camden Fine, and lobbyists Heather and Anthony Podesta, whose brother John Podesta led Obama's transition team.
Advocates and nonprofit leaders include National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy, and Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is interested in health policy.
Democratic donor and businessman George Soros visited with White House aides twice.
Political figures include former Sen. Thomas Daschle, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, former Sen. Howard Dean, Sen. Al Franken, former Vice President Al Gore, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf.
Celebrities at the White House include Oprah Winfrey (who was there to interview Obama), actors George Clooney and Denzel Washington, and tennis star Sabrina Williams. Journalists include Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner in economics.
Religious Right leader Gary Bauer visited, as did civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Besides Gates, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt are also on the list. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC. One of NBC's parents is GE.)
Msnbc.com has put the full list in a handy PDF file, and it's also available in an Excel file for those who like to sort.
The White House warns that many names that may appear familiar — and controversial —do not in fact refer to the most famous people to carry those names. Jeremiah Wright is on the list, but it's not the president's former pastor. Michael Jordan is not the basketball player. This Michael Moore is not a filmmaker. William Ayers, who took a group tour of the White House, isn't the former radical from Chicago. And the Angela Davis on the list has a different middle initial than the activist and former fugitive.
The White House could have avoided some of that sort of confusion by providing more information on the visitors, such as an employer name and the city they hail from. For example, is the Shawn Carter who attended a poetry reading the same one who goes by Jay-Z and had campaigned for Obama?
"This unprecedented level of transparency can sometimes be confusing rather than providing clear information," a White House special counsel, Norm Eisen, wrote on the White House blog.
If you spot a name on the list that bears investigating, please drop us a note.
Despite the accompanying White House claim of "transparency like you've never seen before," the Obama White House continues to take the same legal position as the Bush White House, arguing that the records are not public records subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Only limited "voluntary releases" are being made to settle a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group, though a federal judge has twice ruled that all the visitor logs are public.
Yet there are severe limitations to the transparency:
Most of the visitors from Inauguration Day to September will never be released by the White House under this voluntary disclosure — unless the public can guess their names. The White House policy doesn't allow members of the public or press to ask for "everyone who visited health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle," or everyone who visited on May 4, or everyone from the American Medical Association. Only individual names can be checked.
What was released Friday were just about 110 names with 481 visits. Those names were among those requested by members of the public so far, for visits during the period from Inauguration Day through July. Members of the public who used the White House online form to check names did not receive a personal reply indicating whether or not the request was received, or whether the name appeared on the list.
A request for all records from the first months of the administration, filed by msnbc.com, remains open. The news organization requested the names of all visitors to the Obama White House beginning with Inauguration Day. That request is pending, and msnbc.com has filed an administrative appeal with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service.