After President Obama filmed a campaign video in what appeared to be the White House Map Room last month, there were allegations from conservatives that it may have violated fundraising rules that bar the president from soliciting donations in rooms where he conducts White House business. The Republican National Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday, asking the Justice Department to investigate the matter:
[RNC chair Reince] Priebus accused the president of recording a fundraising appeal in the Map Room of the White House. He said it is “not part of the White House residence, but rather ‘occupied in the discharge of official duties,'” and called for the Department of Justice to investigate.
The Map Room is located on the ground floor of the White House.
“According to multiple individuals with knowledge of the White House’s rooms and layout, the video appears to have been recorded in the Map Room…the White House Counsel has indicated that the video was filmed somewhere in the residential portion of the White House,” Priebus said.
It is illegal to solicit contributions for a political purpose from any area of the White House “occupied in the discharge of official duties,” or, used for purposes of official White House business.
While the Obama campaign hasn’t said outright that the video was filmed in the Map Room, they did seem to imply that it was in comments to CNN.
“As we’ve said in the past, this was wholly appropriate and routinely done in past administrations,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. “Many lawyers and experts have all said publicly that what this administration is doing is completely above board,” Schultz fired back.
The legal issues surrounding this are tricky, though some see it as a solid case against Obama. The Map Room is technically considered part of the White House residence, but Obama also conducts presidential business there, which some claim categorizes it as a room “occupied in the discharge of official duties.”
“[I]f the video was indeed filmed in the Map Room, where Obama tapes his non-campaign messages, the president violated the law and the White House lied about it,” wrote Jim Geraghty at the National Review online.
In the past, Obama has used the Map Room to film White House addresses, in addition to other campaign videos. But previous presidents have used the residential area of the White House to shoot fundraising appeals as well, which puts the RNC’s allegations on shaky grounds. While it seems unlikely the letter to Holder will lead to any legal consequences for Obama, his actions could potentially raise ethical questions about the use of the White House for campaign fundraising. And the fact that the campaign won’t admit to using the Map Room will certainly undercut Obama’s claim that he’s running an open and transparent campaign.