Never let it be said that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney isn’t a champion of transparency. After all, the candidate called last night for the release of the full video of a Florida fundraiser that he held on May 17. Here’s Romney’s call for sunlight:
By the way, whoever has released the snippets would — I would certainly appreciate if they’d release the whole tape so we could see all of it.
That request, of course, comes only after Mother Jones published a variety of videos capturing some candid remarks that Romney delievered at this fundraiser. The most candid of all has Romney saying this:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. . . . [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
How refreshing is Romney’s embrace of transparency? Well, consider that back in May — just a day before the fundraiser that has caused the ongoing hullaballoo — the Romney campaign attempted to keep reporters from the candidate’s rope line, and a mini-stampede ensued. In July, when the candidate joined former vice president Dick Cheney at a Wyoming event, “Romney’s campaign labored to avoid any photos or videos of the two men together,” according to The Washington Post. Then came Romney’s three-country midsummer trip, when he took but three questions from the traveling press corps (though many more from TV reporters who did sit-downs with him).
Those episodes invest Romney’s call for full disclosure regarding the fundraiser videotape with a tinge of irony. And poignancy, as well: Secrets cannot be kept anymore, especially when they’re communicated to audiences of tens or hundreds of people. The Romney video leak proves that there’s no such thing as an off-the-record “event.”
Open your fundraisers, Romney. Same goes for you, Obama.
A source with the Romney camp details the protocol for media access to a fundraiser: “[W]e have a print pooler, local print pooler, TV editorial pooler, TV camera pool, photog pool and all 3 wires in attendance at fundraisers in public places when Gov. Romney gives formal remarks for the duration of the event.”
That’s a mouthful. Here to help us sort through what it means is NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro, who has attended fundraisers both for Obama and Romney.
“In my experience, typically reporters will be allowed in the room for the first part of the fundraiser, where Romney or Obama says something to the group,” says Shapiro.
Later, when the candidates answer questions or schmooze from table to table, “reporters are almost never allowed in for that part of the fundraiser,” he notes.
Amy Gardner, a Washington Post reporter following Team Obama during the campaign, says that at a New York fundraiser this year, she and other reporters were hustled into a room. At a certain point in the proceedings, recalls Gardner, the president notified the audience that he’d be taking some questions but stated that he’d wait for the media to clear out before doing so.
It’s these non-media moments that a surreptitious videographer captured at the Romney event, to the delight of Mother Jones. It took place in Boca Raton, at the home of private equity mogul Marc Leder. And it shows Romney delivering less spin than he’d allow in an interview with Fox News or ABC News or CBS News.
By articulating his digression on America’s 47 percenters, Romney appeared to be giving his donors what they’d come for. In exchange for the outlandish sums they muster to attend fundraisers, people want a piece of the candidate, not the same sound bites they get on the Internet and television. Notes Shapiro: “Part of the appeal is not having a camera there.”
Or perhaps not having a visible camera there.
Credit the country’s rich wheeler-dealers and political advisers and handlers with quite a feat: These damaging and high-profile fundraiser leaks don’t happen all that often. There was the leak of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s “cling-to-guns-or-religion” remarks, and there’s this ongoing Romney thing.
But that’s plenty. There are but two directions in which the candidates can now take the enterprise.
Direction One: Clamp down.
Frisk everyone upon entry. Strip them of their cell phones and hold them at the front desk till the event concludes — an approach that the Obama campaign has already taken, according to various accounts. Make sure that people don’t leak. Encourage secrecy and groupthink.
Direction Two: Open up.
Given what happened to Romney in Boca Raton, candidates will be more careful than ever about saying anything in a fundraiser that they wouldn’t say on the stump. Mother Jones’s David Corn says, “The most uninteresting event in the next two months is going to be a Romney fundraiser.”
As the leveling proceeds, what’s the point in ushering the media out the door? ABC News’s Jonathan Karl notes: “If there had been access to these fundraisers, Romney wouldn’t be talking this way and wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Another consideration is that if someone attends a fundraiser and attempts to slime the candidate with a false or incomplete account of the goings-on, the best response is more media, not less. And that brings us back to Romney’s plea for the full video.
Campaigns: Let the media hang out. You’ll be better protected and the public will be better informed. If donors are offended and decide to stay away, the republic will just have to live with less money in its political system.