Telecom executive Donald H. Gips raised a big bundle of cash to help finance his friend Barack Obama's run for the presidency. Gips, a vice president of Colorado-based Level 3 Communications, delivered more than $500,000 in contributions for the Obama war chest, while two other company executives collected at least $150,000 more. After the election, Gips was put in charge of hiring in the Obama White House, helping to place loyalists and fundraisers in many key positions. Then, in mid-2009, Obama named him ambassador to South Africa. Meanwhile, Level 3 Communications, in which Gips retained stock, received millions of dollars of government stimulus contracts for broadband projects in six states — though Gips said he had been "completely unaware" that the company had received the contracts. More than two years after Obama took officeto banish "special interests" from his administration, nearly 200 of his biggest donors have landed plum government jobs and advisory posts, won federal contracts worth millions of dollars for their business interests or attended numerous elite White House meetings and social events, an investigation by iWatch News has found. These "bundlers" raised at least $50,000 — and sometimes more than $500,000 -- in campaign donations for Obama's campaign. Many of those in the "Class of 2008" are now being asked to bundle contributions for Obama's reelection, an effort that could cost $1 billion. As a candidate, Obama spoke passionately about diminishing the clout of moneyed interests. Kicking off his presidential run on Feb. 10, 2007, he blasted "the cynics, the UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05781006 Date: 09/30/2015 lobbyists, the special interests," who had "turned our government into a game only they can afford to play." "We're here today to take it back," he said. But just like other presidential aspirants, Obama relied heavily on megadonors to propel his campaign across the finish line, and many fundraisers have shared in the spoils of victory. The White House insisted its appointees are eminently qualified. "In filling these posts, the administration looks for the most qualified candidates who represent Americans from all walks of life," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. "Being a donor does not get you a job in this administration, nor does it preclude you from getting one." The Watch News investigation found: • Overall, 184 of 556, or about one-third of Obama bundlers or their spouses joined the administration in some role. But the percentages are much higher for the big-dollar bundlers. Nearly 80 percent of those who collected more than $500,000 for Obama took "key administration posts," as defined by the White House. More than half the 24 ambassador nominees who were bundlers raised $500,000. • The big bundlers had broad access to the White House for meetings with top administration officials and glitzy social events. In all, campaign bundlers and their family members account for more than 3,000 White House meetings and visits. Half of them raised $200,000 or more. • Some Obama bundlers have ties to companies that stand to gain financially from the president's policy agenda, particularly in clean energy and telecommunications, and some already have done so. Level 3 Communications, for instance, snared $13.8 million in stimulus money. The Obama administration has tightened restrictions on hiring lobbyists, but the deference shown major donors contradicts its claims to have changed business as usual in Washington. "Any president who says he's going to change this is either hopelessly naive or polishing the reality to promise something other than can be delivered," said Paul Light, a New York University professor and an expert on presidential transitions. "At best, it's naive and a little bit of a shell game." Bundling is controversial because it permits campaigns to skirt individual contribution limits of $2,500 in federal elections. Bundlers pool donations from fundraising networks and, as a result, "play an enormous role in determining the success of political campaigns," according to government watchdog Public Citizen. When the new administration set up shop in the White House on Jan. 20, 2009, the money raisers soon followed. Visitor logs show about 800 bundler visits during the formative early months of the administration, and overall, the top-tier bundlers tended to visit far more often than those at the bottom rung. UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05781006 Date: 09/30/2015 Some are longtime friends of the first family, such as Chicagoans Cindy Moelis and her husband, Robert Rivkin, who as a couple bundled at least $200,000. Obama appointed Moelis to direct the Presidential Commission on White House Fellows. Her husband was appointed general counsel of the Department of Transportation and special adviser to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Rivkin, who worked as a lawyer with a Chicago risk management and insurance firm, had once served as general counsel to the Chicago Transit Authority. Moelis told iWatch News that she and her husband were "highly qualified" for their jobs and that they "took pay cuts and made considerable sacrifice" to enter public service. "We truly believe in it," she said. Harvey S. Wineberg, a certified public accountant from Chicago who raised at least $100,000 and is Obama's personal accountant, said his fundraising had "nothing to do" with his appointment to the President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability in December 2010. Wineberg said he called a White House staffer, whom he declined to name, to ask about serving. "I thought I'd be good," he said. He has since resigned. The bundlers often went to the White House to see David C. Jacobson, then a special assistant for presidential personnel. Jacobson, a Chicago lawyer and himself an Obama bundler, served as the 2008 campaign's deputy finance director. Jacobson, who departed in September 2009 to become ambassador to Canada, scheduled about 90 meetings with bundlers, according to an iWatch News analysis of visitor logs. Two-thirds of them had each raised at least $200,000. Gips, who served as White House director of presidential personnel before taking the post in South Africa, saw more than a dozen bundlers. Other inner-circle White House officials, such as presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, also a bundler, met with more than 50 bundlers, mostly the heavy hitters. Obama met with at least two dozen bundlers either privately or with another person, according to the visitor logs. Ambassadorships have been the traditional payoff for big bundlers. But it's not just the posts in foreign capitals that are attractive. Light, the NYU expert on presidential transitions, said that in recent years many have sought jobs with deep reach into the federal bureaucracy — and found a receptive ear in the White House. "When they get a résumé from a bundler, that is a real signal of seriousness," Light said. "It's also a thinly veiled quid pro quo," and it "goes without saying they will get considered." Public Citizen found in 2008 that President George W. Bush had appointed about 200 bundlers to administration posts over his eight years in office. That is roughly the same number Obama has appointed in a little more than two years, the iWatch News analysis showed. Some bundlers said in interviews that they called the White House to ask for a position, while others said they were called and asked to serve. Ted Hosp, an Alabama lawyer who delivered more than $200,000 for Obama, said he had no expectation of a job when he signed on to the campaign finance committee. But he did UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05781006 Date: 09/30/2015 ask to be considered and said he met with then-White House Counsel Gregory Craig, also a bundler, to discuss a position at the Justice Department. "I was interested in exploring [a job]," said Hosp, who did not get a job in the administration. "I would have been interested in helping him [Obama] if the right opportunity arose." The cluster of appointments among top bundlers suggests that the size of the donation may have been a factor at least in getting a foot in the door. Less than one in five at the $50,000 level got an administration position. Half of $200,000 bundlers were picked for some post; 80 percent of the $500,000 bundlers were appointed. Michael Caplin, a Virginia consultant who assists nonprofit businesses, raised $200,000 for Obama and was appointed to the Commission on Presidential Scholars, a board that selects and honors promising high school students. He said he was contacted by a White House staffer asking him if he wanted to serve, though he saw plenty of other big donors angling for jobs and positions. "Clearly, if someone raised a million dollars for your campaign, you tend to get a phone call returned," Caplin said. But he also believes that many big donors who took positions were well qualified. "If that person is truly excellent but also raised money for your campaign, should that disallow you to serve?" The appointment of George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton illustrates how the administration has rewarded many top fundraisers. Overton wrote in 2003 that the influence big donors wield in elections means that an "overwhelming majority of citizens are effectively excluded from an important stage of the political process." Yet Overton bundled at least $500,000 for Obama. He was named to the Obama transition team and in February 2009 was appointed principal deputy attorney general in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Policy. Overton visited the White House more than 80 times from January 2009 through the end of 2010 for events ranging from small meetings with high-level staffers to social and entertainment events, sometimes with his wife, records show. Overton resigned the $180,000-a-year job in July 2010. He declined to comment for this story.