By Garth Kant
It’s deja-vu all over again: First, Bill Clinton was accused of selling access to the White House, and now it’s President Obama selling the goods.
The White House may be denying reports that donors who gave $500,000 to Obama’s re-election campaign will be guaranteed access to the president, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney didn’t deny those donors could meet with Obama or members of his staff.
The New York Times and Washington Post had reported that donors who gave a half-million dollars or more to the group Organizing for Action would be given access to the president four times a year.
Carney said, “Administration officials can meet with them, including the president, but the fact of the matter is this is an independent organization that is supporting an agenda.”
That agenda has become supporting Obama’s proposals for strict gun-control measures and comprehensive immigration reform. OFA was formed in January from the remaining infrastructure of Obama’s presidential campaign and has a large supporter email database.
OFA is listed as a 501(c)4 nonprofit social welfare group and claims it will not practice partisan politics. But the group is targeting 13 GOP legislators. OFA is running ads in their districts, with photos of the lawmakers, calling for strict background checks for gun sales.
The ads are aimed at Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Reps. Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, David Joyce of Ohio, John Kline of Minnesota, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Daniel Webster and C.W. “Bill” Young of Florida, Robert Pittenger of North Carolina, and from California Reps. Jeff Denham, Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, Gary G. Miller and David Valadao.
OFA recently launched its first national mobilization, or day of action, with 100 events around the country supporting Obama’s gun-control plans.
The reports that $500,000 would give donors access to Obama drew sharp criticism, as he had campaigned for greater transparency and reduced influence of money in politics.
Carney said that hasn’t changed.
“The president has been very clear that we should be doing more to reduce the role of money in politics,” he said.
During his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, Obama was even critical of President Clinton’s rental of the Lincoln Bedroom to big donors. But as a report last year found that more than 60 of Obama’s biggest campaign donors have visited the White House at least once for meetings with top advisers, holiday parties or state dinners.
In 2007, he pledged to participate in the presidential public financing system for the general election. He called himself “a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns.” But when the money started rolling in, he reversed himself. In June 2008, Obama became the first candidate to decline public financing, claiming he still supported the system in principle but that it needed reforming.
Obama went on to raise a then-record $745 million for the cycle and outspent John McCain by four-to-one. He raised $783 million for the race against Mitt Romney.
Obama was the biggest critic of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, leading to the creation of super PACs financed with unlimited corporate or individual money.
He blasted the ruling in his State of the Union address: “Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” Obama said
His campaign promised not to use PACs. In July 2011, campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said: “Neither the president nor his campaign staff or aides will fundraise for super PACs. Our campaign will continue to lead the way when it comes to transparency and reform.”
The campaign reversed itself seven months later and embraced a super PAC created by a former White House aide called Priorities USA Action.
The Obama campaign issued a memo a few months ago on the president’s campaign finance record that included previous statements such as, “That’s one of the reasons I ran for president: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington.”
He had criticized the way Citizens United “gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money — literally millions of dollars — to affect elections throughout our country.”