A recent letter sent to Rep. Issa (R-Ca) by White House lawyer, Kathryn Ruemmler, Council to the President, which addresses Issa’s request for material relating to the use of the Map Room in the White House for soliciting campaign funds (See Video) which would, in theory, be in violation to United State Code 18 Sec. 607, states that:
“None of the activities referenced in your letter violated these rules or policies and all of them were consistent with the practices of prior Democratic and Republican Administrations.”
She references a Department of Justice Memorandum Opinion in 1979 which, according to her reading, the law does not apply to the “Executive Residence except in certain circumstances.” Really, what the Memorandum states is that:
“We see no reason why the exemption for private residential space discussed previously should not apply to a room that assumes that character only on a part-time or temporary basis when used for a personal or political gathering. In order, however, for Congress’ intent that the bar created by § 603 effectively prohibit any sort of political solicitation during the course of Federal employment, more than a subjective intent to use such a room for private purposes is necessary.”
Effectively, what this means is that if a room in the White House is used part-time as a residential area and part-time for a political purpose, then it can fall outside the realm of this law, BUT there must be more than a subjective intent to use the room for a private purpose. What follows is a list of instances in which Obama used the Map Room for official business:
- Obama’s second oath taking was done in this room (seen in this photo and related article).
- Obama meets with the Dalai Lama in 2011 and 2010 (seen in this photo).
- Obama and the First Lady use this room to wait for the President of Mexico in 2010 (seen in this photo).
- Numerous media interviews were conducted in this room by Obama and past presidents (seen in this photo).
- However, the private residential use of this room is highly doubtful as Hans von Spakovsky, former member of the Federal Election Commission and Heritage Foundation legal analyst, explains in this article: “What they [OLC] said the grey area was, was other rooms that are used not just for official duties but perhaps were also used for entertaining. The Map Room, as I understand it, is only used for official duties – it’s not an entertainment room like other rooms in the White House [that] could be characterized other than the personal residence.”
In this light and according to the Memorandum which is cited in Ruemmler’s letter to Issa, there is no conclusive or objective reasoning to say that the Map Room is used for other than official business. The White House Museum webpage even states its current purpose as “a private meeting room for the president or first lady.”
The Memorandum also states that, “Information regarding past practice with respect to particular rooms, arrangements for reservation and use of such areas, and handling of attendant costs for budgetary and accounting purposes may prove helpful in this regard. Budgetary considerations may be particularly significant, for where the President has determined that a room has been used for official purposes so as to warrant coverage of costs with public funds it would seem that he has implicitly recognized that such a meeting was conducted in the discharge of official duties.”
As far as past practices, the room was for entertainment but only up until 1929 when it served as a billiard room. Since then, its main use has been for official business such as Roosevelt using it as a situation room to follow the events of World War II. A scroll down the White House Museum webpage gives a pretty clear historic use of the room since.
As for examples of other presidents doing the same thing in the White House, neither of the examples given in the letter have the president specifically using a White House room with the sole intent of soliciting funds. Clips of them in unrelated events in everyday official White House business were used in a campaign ad which did not specifically solicit funds. They can be viewed here, here, and here.
What is clear is that the Obama administration is using this Memorandum as a cover in saying it did no wrong when it used the room for soliciting campaign funds. But if one actually reads it, it is simply not the case. Therefore, a thorough investigation should still be conducted and until a Department of Justice conclusion of the use of the Map Room specifically is determined to fall outside the realm of this law, a valid concern of illegality is warranted.