Who's she, you might be asking? She's the co-founder of the Esprit clothing company and, as the SF Chronicle reports, "one of the most generous Democratic Party donors in the nation - instrumental in backing such powerhouse progressive organizations as the Democracy Alliance and Media Matters".
In fact, the entire article written by Chronicle political reporters Carla Marinucci, and Joe Garofoli is worth reading.
Tompkins Buell, who is a longtime friend of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and was among her biggest donors in the 2008 presidential race, has long played a starring role in San Francisco as a hostess for presidents, top legislators and world leaders at fundraisers for progressive campaign causes.
But on Tuesday, instead of dining with the elite crowd of about 200 who paid at least $5,000 a head - and up to $7,500 for a photo with the president - at the two-hour luncheon, the Democratic activist, who could easily afford the fundraiser, said it was more important to stand outside with an estimated 1,000 demonstrators.
Her goal: to urge Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, a proposed 1,700-mile underground conduit linking the tar-sand fields in Alberta, Canada, to Texas refineries. Environmentalists say the pipeline would result in untold environmental damage. "I think this is a huge issue about our future, about the planet, not just America," she said. "And he needs to be a leader ... to have the awareness of it. To fight for it."
David desJardins, a leading IT consultant who donated $60,000 to Democratic causes in 2010, agreed.
"The concern of the donor community is that he really doesn't get the picture of how important this is," said desJardins, who also protested the Keystone project outside the W.
While the largest faction rallied against the pipeline, there were also antiwar protesters; supporters of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of giving documents to WikiLeaks; people from the Occupy SF camp; and a group protesting the Obama administration's recent crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries across California.
While the causes varied, many of the protesters at Third and Howard streets appeared to share a deep disappointment with Obama. While many said they were unprepared to support a Republican presidential candidate next year, some promised to withhold money, volunteer time and manpower from Obama's campaign. Others considered sitting out the election altogether.
Pipeline a big issue
"I'm not writing a check to the president until he does something to stop the Keystone pipeline," said Anna Hawken McKay, wife of Rob McKay - a wealthy philanthropist whose father founded the Taco Bell restaurant empire. As she stood on the sidewalk with other protesters, McKay vowed to be part of a protest of 5,000 Americans who will circle the White House on Nov. 6, a year to the day from the 2012 election.
With Obama's approval ratings at an all-time low, the choice of such wealthy Democratic donors to reject the opportunity to dine with their president while protesting his policies underscores his increasingly tenuous relations with his political base.
"If he says yes (to Keystone), I won't give him money," said Michael Kieschnick, president and co-founder of CREDO Mobile and Working Assets, which has donated $60 million to progressive causes, as he stood outside the W Hotel. Added Kieschnick, whose CREDO Action, the activist arm of his cellular service company, rallied a large band of protesters Tuesday: "But I'll work to defeat his opponent - who will be worse."
Kieschnick echoed the concerns of activists who said they are increasingly concerned that, with the approach of the 2012 election, the Democratic president has appeared too eager to mollify business interests and abandon his base - moves that have raised doubts about his core convictions.
"This is why we elected him as president. He ran understanding global warming, and he can't blame anyone else," said Kieschnick, who said his response to invitations to high-priced Obama fundraisers like Tuesday's is "the same every time," he said. "Talk to me after you decide on Keystone."
Yes, this is San Francisco (and full disclosure: Kieschnick was my boss for several years when I worked under him at Working Assets in the city), the bastion of liberalism. And you might want to deride some of these folks as "limousine liberals," but trust me, they matter, in terms of enthusiasm.
After the 2010 elections, I'll never discount how significant "enthusiasm" is. For months leading into last November, all public opinion surveys showed Republicans with far, far greater intensity in going to the polls, and that's exactly what happened across the country, in the GOP "tsunami."
This Keystone XL pipeline story is one worth watching.