Obama Aides Defend Use of White House Room for Campaign Pitch
The White House offered a vigorous defense Tuesday of a presidential campaign video filmed inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., saying no lines were crossed by using federal facilities in a political pitch.
The Democratic National Committee video advertises the campaign's "Dinner With Barack" raffle -- the campaign wants donors to contribute $5 or more for the chance at having dinner with the president. In the video, President Obama tells supporters that, in a last-minute addition to sweeten the deal, Vice President Biden will join them.
"Hope to see you soon," Obama said, before the video directs viewers to the website where they can donate and sign up.
The room where the video was shot is in the White House, and apparently is the same room Obama has used to shoot several of his weekly radio addresses. The circumstance quickly raised questions about whether the campaign was in violation of federal election law, which says federal employees, including the president, cannot solicit election funds "while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an officer or employee of the United States."
The legality of it may boil down to where in the White House the pitch was filmed, as certain parts of the White House are exempt from the restriction. A decades-old legal opinion allows solicitations in the "private residence" areas of the White House.
The White House said everything's above board and "entirely appropriate," for several reasons.
"It's not a violation of the campaign finance laws," a White House official told FoxNews.com.
First, the official said, the video was not shot in those "certain offices" in the White House where fundraising solicitations are prohibited.
Second, the White House pointed out that other presidents -- including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- have also used White House real estate in campaign pitches, though the images typically are used in run-of-the-mill ads as opposed to fundraising appeals. Third, the White House official claimed the president's latest video doesn't count as a fundraising appeal anyway, because Obama doesn't explicitly ask for money in the video and anybody can submit his or her name for the raffle.
"Anyone can join the raffle, not just donors," the official told FoxNews.com. "There's nothing in there that asks for money."
Former Federal Election Commission member Hans von Spakovsky didn't buy that claim.
Though Obama doesn't explicitly ask for money in the video, the website referenced in the video -- and which hosts the video -- is set up to take donations. Plus the fundraising email from Campaign Manager Jim Messina that included a link to the video and page included the following message: "Watch the President's video, and then donate $5 or more to be automatically entered for the chance to have dinner with him."
"You're basically doing a solicitation," Spakovsky said of Obama's video.
Spakovsky said the critical detail in determining whether the video is legal is location. If it was filmed in the residence, the video is fine, if it was filmed in office space, it's a violation. Spaces in between are kind of a gray area.
"This thing really boils down to where the heck did they film it?" Spakovsky said.
Still, there is precedent for basing fundraising appeals out of the White House. Former President Ronald Reagan, according to an Associated Press article from 1997, made fundraising-related calls from the White House during his administration. Former Vice President Al Gore also acknowledged that he made fundraising calls from his White House office during Clinton's reelection campaign, but said it wasn't a violation because there was "no controlling legal authority."
The latest Obama video was paid for with DNC funds, according to the White House.