An article in NewsMax on July 1st exposes President Obama’s questionable fundraising techniques which, when thoroughly investigated, could be found to be illegal. It is no doubt that the President is an unprecedented powerhouse of fundraising and his unleashed torrent has amassed a staggering amount of cash that will be nearly impossible for GOP candidates to equal. Unofficial figures suggest that Obama’s second quarter fundraising should surpass that of record holder President George W. Bush in 2003 which totaled $50.1 million. July 15th will be the day that campaigns will have to disclose their filings publicly and will also be the day that may spell doom for GOP contenders at least in the money race.
President Obama may enjoy a comfortable lead among his competitors, but it also seems that he is enjoying a comfortable leniency in protocol in terms of legality in fundraising. The article in NewsMax explains that Obama used a room in the White House as a location for a fundraising video in which he and Vice President Biden were touting a raffle for a dinner with the two of them in exchange for a campaign contribution. This video was apparently shot in the Map Room on the ground floor of the White House which has been used by Obama for official business. The rules stipulate in United State Code 18 Sec. 607 that:
It shall be unlawful for an individual who is an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an officer or employee of the United States, from any person.
This would not be an issue if the soliciting took place in a residential part of the White House but this particular room is not and has been used by President Obama in official business with a meeting of the Dalai Lama, media interviews and is also the site of Obama’s second oath swearing. If an investigation is done and it is concluded that this breaks the law, then this is a criminal offense that is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. However, before any criminal charges could ever be brought against a sitting president, he would have to be impeached by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate, neither of which will even be considered for this transgression. The other more plausible option is that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) could sanction the Obama reelection campaign and require it to pay a fine.
The Newsmax article quotes Cleta Mitchell, a “high-powered GOP attorney who sits on the ABA’s election-law committee,” as saying, “It’s a criminal offense.”
An article in the New York Times on the same day, July 1st, and which also concerns fundraising does not mention this possible breach of law but only concerns itself with how slowly the GOP candidates fundraising is going. In an ABC News article, however, it has a White House official saying it “is entirely appropriate. The legal restriction is only that we cannot solicit funds in certain offices in the White House which we’re not doing.” The article also quotes Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as saying that “the White House residence can be used as anyone would use his or her home. ‘Can you imagine if he had traveled on a big motorcade to go somewhere else to film it?’” The article concludes with saying that the White House provided clips of President Bush and Reagan using the White House in campaign ads which can be viewed here and here but as one can see, this is just footage shot of each president walking in front of the White House in a completely unrelated event. They are not even inside the White House. The difference in this case is that President Obama is specifically using a room in the White House which is used repeatedly for official business and is said on the White House Museum webpage to serve as “a private meeting room for the president or first lady.” This was the case in 2010 when the President and the First Lady waited to meet the president of Mexico in this room.
The decision Attorney General Janet Reno made during the 1996 reelection campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore to not seek an independent counsel to investigate alleged telephone fund raising abuses, as reported in this Washington Post article, was substantiated by her because, as she stated, “the law did not apply because the calls either were made from residential areas, did not involve specific solicitations or did not raise actual campaign money.” The last two of these factors are undisputed in Obama’s case and the residential area is highly disputable given the current description and all of the official business conducted in the Map Room.
So what are the options at this point? On the one hand, a very questionable fundraising technique that if investigated could come back with plausible ramifications due to its apparent illegality and on the other, a simple wave off of importance by the White House as a non-issue in the spirit of not letting this story get out of hand.