(WASHINGTON) — For one of President Obama’s top fundraisers, the appointment last year to an elite group of State Department security advisors appeared to be an odd fit.
Rajiv Fernando, a Chicago securities trader, has never touted any international security credentials, yet he was appointed alongside an august collection of nuclear scientists, former cabinet secretaries and members of Congress to advise Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on crucial security matters.
One current member of the International Security Advisory Board told ABC News that none of the other members could figure out who Fernando was or why he was there.
Fernando, president of Chopper Trading, has distinguished himself in one way, though. He is one of the most prolific bundlers of campaign contributions for President Obama’s reelection, raising more than $500,000 this cycle. Prior to his State Department appointment, Fernando gave between $100,000 and $250,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation, and another $30,000 to a political advocacy group, WomenCount, that has indirectly helped Hillary Clinton retire her lingering campaign debts.
How Fernando found a place on the intelligence panel remains an unanswered question. Fernando declined repeated requests to be interviewed over the past several months. When he was approached by ABC News this week in his hotel lobby, he turned away from cameras, asked hotel security to arrest the reporters, and at one point grabbed an ABC News camera and apparently attempted to break it.
Days after ABC News contacted the State Department in 2011 to ask about his qualifications to serve on the panel, Fernando announced he had stepped down, saying he was too busy to participate. The State Department declined to provide his resume, or offer comment.
As Fernando exchanged hugs and greetings with other top donors in Charlotte this week, he embodied what some watchdog groups say has been a surprising aspect of President Obama’s first term. Despite his pledges to change the way business is done in Washington, Obama has continued a tradition of appointing top donors to prestigious posts in government and seats on influential federal commissions.
“Overall the problem is the declaration by Obama that things would be so different,” said Melanie Sloan, who runs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “When it doesn’t look so different, that is a disappointment.”
More than two dozen of the president’s top fundraisers received ambassadorships during his first term, and dozens more have been placed in various key posts in his administration. Fernando’s appointment stands out, however, because a seat on the International Security Advisory Board has not traditionally been viewed as a perk for major donors.
Among those who sat alongside Fernando on the panel were David A. Kay, the former head of the Iraq Survey Group and UN Chief Weapons Inspector; Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a former National Security Advisor to two presidents; William Perry, a former Secretary of Defense; two former congressmen; and former Sen. Chuck Robb.
Stephen Krasner, a professor of international studies at Stanford University who served on the board under President Bush, said he did not think the panel was a place to park contributors.
“These are always people who would have serious foreign policy expertise,” he said.
Fernando’s expertise appears to be in the arena of high-frequency trading — a form of computer-generated stock trading. His firm, Chopper Trading, is a leader in that field.
Another area of interest is politics. Fernando’s history of campaign giving dates back at least to 2003 and it is prolific — and almost exclusively to Democrats. He was an early supporter of Hillary Clinton’s bid for president, giving maximum contributions to her campaign, and to HillPAC, in 2007 and 2008. He also served as a Clinton bundler, gathering more than $100,000 from others for her White House bid.
After Obama secured the Democratic nomination in 2008, Fernando began donating to him. He recently hosted a fundraiser at his Chicago home with Vice President Biden. But he has also continued to help Clinton. In 2009 he made a $25,000 contribution to WomenCount, a group organized by former Clinton supporters that states as its goals the advancement of women in politics. The group was also one of several that has helped Clinton retire her campaign debt by renting her email list.
The group has paid Clinton’s campaign account $220,000 for “list rental income.” Renting the mailing list served as a major source of income for Clinton, who finished her presidential bid with a sizeable debt, but was hampered from paying it back because, as Secretary of State, her abilities to fundraise were severely limited.
Stacy Mason, who runs WomenCount, said the group did not serve as a pass-through for people looking to support Clinton.
“Our mission had little or nothing to do with Hillary,” Mason said. “The list was to build the movement. Our goal was to bring women together online to support legislation, to elect women to office.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN
Lindsay Isaac, CNN