White House won’t confirm access arrangement

February 25, 2013

White House press secretary Jay Carney was vague in his daily briefing when questioned  on whether major donors to Organizing for Action, the non-profit organization that sprang from the former Obama campaign, would be given special access to the president.

Carney, amidst a series of questions from a skeptical White House press corps, answered "no" when asked by Fox News's Ed Henry whether access to the president is being sold. 

"There are a variety of rules governing interaction between administration officials and outside groups, and administration officials follow those rules," Carney said. "White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action, and they -- while they may appear at appropriate OFA events, in their official capacities they will not be raising money."

The Washington Post and The New York Times over the weekend reported on the new organization's fundraising apparatus and the blurry line between advocacy and political campaigning.

The Times wrote that donations to the non-profit, including a $50,000-per-head fundraiser next month that President Obama is scheduled to attend, will also "translate into access".

The Post's Tom Hamburger wrote, "Advocates for campaign finance reform see the organization’s goal of raising tens of millions of dollars as a new channel to allow wealthy individuals and corporations to seek favors from the administration."

When asked directly whether those donating $500,000, the reported target amount outlined by OFA officials for top donors, would get access to the president at quarterly meetings, Carney deferred, asking reporters to speak to OFA.

After Henry tried to get a direct answer a few times, CBS News's Major Garrett jumped in. Here's the exchange:

Garrett: (UNCLEAR) the price tag to see the president?

Carney: No.

Garrett: It's not?

Carney: Of course not.

Garrett: So $500,000 does not guarantee you access to the president?

Carney: Look, this is an independent organization. I would point you to that organization for how it raises its money.

The White House seems to be drawing a line between Obama directly raising money for the group and appearing at events with donors who happen to contribute a certain amount to the group.

As The Fix's Chris Cillizza notes, it's the latest example of Obama seeming to want it both ways on campaign finance -- calling for less money in politics but actually doing things that do the opposite, in the name of political pragmatism.

This post has been updated. 

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Sean Sullivan | February 25, 2013