Barack Obama locks out the press — again
SAN FRANCISCO — President Barack Obama went to the West Coast to meet donors from two top Democratic super PACs, but the press wasn’t invited.
Tuesday, the reporters and photographers traveling with the president on Air Force One and in his motorcade were left on the gravel path not even within sight of former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal’s house in the Seattle suburbs where Obama sat for a Senate Majority PAC fundraiser with a $25,000 entrance fee.
“We think these fundraisers ought to be open to at least some scrutiny, because the president’s participation in them is fundamentally public in nature,” said Christi
Parsons, the new president of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “Denying access to him in that setting undermines the public’s ability to independently monitor and see what its government is doing. It’s of special concern as these events and the donors they attract become more influential in the
Despite constant complaints from the press corps and promises from White House officials, access to the president continues to be limited. The constantly repeated line that they’re running the “most transparent administration in history” tends to prompt snickers. Halfway through Obama’s West Coast swing, it’s tipping toward outrage.
Tuesday morning, the WHCA complained after Obama celebrated the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing by hosting Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong’s widow in the Oval Office and allowing just a brief glimpse by a few select photographers.
Asked why the president couldn’t accommodate a little more open coverage, given the nature of the event, White House press secretary Josh Earnest demurred.
“Not this time,” he said.
That’s after reporters only in the past week learned of a May 1 meeting Obama had with former President Bill Clinton, made public after the White House released official photos of the previously secret event. And a May 30 lunch with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have been under wraps if not for an errant People Magazine tweet.
And it’s after a week in which Earnest cited the use of anonymous
sources in attempts to deflect two reports — one from POLITICO about a
spat with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley over where to send the
unaccompanied minors from the border crisis, the other from The
The decision by Obama and his staff to take the secrecy approach to super PAC appearances has aggravated the concerns even further. This was, after all, the president who stepped away from State of the Union tradition in 2010 to directly attack the Supreme Court for the Citizens United ruling that helped spur the dramatic rise in campaign spending. (A separate federal court ruling paved the way for super PACs.) And Obama, even during his own 2012 reelection campaign, kept distance from the Priorities USA super PAC that was supporting him.
But Obama has attended three super PAC events in the past week: one in New York last Thursday and the two on the West Coast.
How many people Obama met with was a secret. How much they paid to
get in was a secret. Finding out who the people were? Forget it. Even a
Parsons said the WHCA has asked the White House to reconsider its position regarding access, but has not yet filed a formal complaint.
All this as the White House, like previous administrations, looks for as much
Yet limited access to the president at fundraisers is nothing new. Wednesday afternoon at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser in Los Altos Hills, in Silicon Valley, reporters were invited into a backyard that included its own tennis court, pool and olive grove to hear Obama deliver almost entirely canned remarks about his record and the midterms.
Only as they were being rushed out did the president start to take questions — promising he’d alternate “girl-boy, girl-boy” once the “fourth estate” was gone. Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, Obama’s recently returned ambassador to Hungary, kicked things off by asking him about the Russian reset and the situation in Ukraine.