To say that Barack Obama has never practiced what he preached about campaign finance reform is the understatement of the century. The president rode to office and then was re-elected with the help of a massive influx of private cash, all the while saying that money was the root of all political evil. He routinely denounces the wealthy and the influence of big business while taking their money and selling access to the White House to the same Wall Street moguls to whom he accuses Republicans of being in thrall.
Even when practiced at such Olympian levels, hypocrisy is not against the law. Thus the news that a new pro-Obama 501(c)(4), organized by the rump of the Obama re-election campaign, is gearing up to not only advocate for the president’s policies but to reward donors with access to the White House and the president himself is not so much a question of legality but a matter of setting a new low in ethical standards. As even the New York Times noted in an article published this weekend, the access sale being conducted by the president’s Organizing for Action group crosses a line that most groups that similarly label themselves as educational rather than political don’t:
Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships. …
Many traditional advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, are set up as social welfare groups, or 501(c)(4)’s in tax parlance. But unlike those groups, Organizing for Action appears to be an extension of the administration, stocked with alumni of Mr. Obama’s White House and campaign teams and devoted solely to the president’s second-term agenda.
The intermingling of money and power is nothing new. Indeed, the myth that campaign finance reform laws can eliminate this nexus is itself a problem because it has led to more and more such legislation that has only made the problem worse, as donations have become less accountable and transparent.
They hypocrisy of a president and an administration that continues to portray itself as being as pure as the driven snow is bad enough. The stench of this sort of brazen behavior ought to shock both the press and the public, but the double standard by which the president always seems to be given a pass for everything he does seems to apply to this as well.
But the problem with selling access to this particular White House is that for all of its high-flown rhetoric about ethics, it seems as malleable to the whims of big contributors as any of its less highly regarded predecessors. A quick look at the list of companies that benefited from the president’s first-term stimulus boondoggle reveals a roster of Obama campaign contributors. We should expect that this latest example of administration venality would increase the number of Solyndra-style “investments” by the Treasury.
This is not the first White House for sale, as both Republicans and Democrats have often played the same game. But the industrial level of this kind of access sale makes the use of the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House as a motel for Democratic cash cows and celebrity donors by the Clintons look tame.
The solution to this sort of thing is not more laws that will only create ever more subterfuges and even less accountability, just as past efforts have done. What is needed is a vigorous press keeping close watch on the administration and prepared to treat future Solyndra-type scandals as major stories–as they would were George W. Bush playing such a cynical game–rather than footnotes. But given the president’s ability to play puppet master to the press, that is about as likely to happen as Laura Bush being asked to announce the Best Picture Oscar.