All-Star Panel: Paying for access to the president?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," February 25, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play, they write the checks and you get stuck with the bill. They get the access while you get to write a letter. They think they own this government, but we are here today to take it back.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, that was then-Senator Obama launching his campaign in 2007 talking about the access of the big money into political campaigns and having influence in policy.

Now former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina is heading up a group that has transformed, it's called Organizing for Action (OFA), it's an advocacy group. And they are doing a few things. Here's a few of them. They're bringing in OFA donors who bring in $500,000 they'll have quarterly meetings with the president, big donors. They also meet with President Obama at the White House, unlimited personal and corporate donations. And there are some critics of all this, especially what the president said about the influence of money in campaigns.

We're back with the panel. Steve, what about this? The White House is pushing back, saying that OFA is completely separate and still committed to reducing the role of money in politics.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Right. Basically Jay Carney had the difficult job, I think, of defending the administration on these points, but he responded basically with a statement. He was clearly reading and it was a series of non-sequiturs about how the president believes broadly in campaign finance reform. But he didn't actually answer, at least not in my mind, in a convincing way the specific charges about, in effect, pay for play. Are people going to be able pay $500,000 and then get regular meetings at the White House? He didn't answer that, I thought, very convincingly.

It is not, I'd say, enough for the president to favor in some abstract way campaign finance reform and getting money out of politics. There was the statement that you played back from 2007 where the president talked about remaking the way we do politics in this country. But there was also what he said today in the clip that we played in the first panel where the president said we don't want to have the well-off and the well-connected winning at politics all the time. Well, that basically is what it sounds like is going on here.

BAIER: Jeremy?

JEREMY PETERS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think Republicans have hit on a remarkable talking point.  This could be their Lincoln bedroom as it applies to Obama. I think the question is whether the public holds Obama to a tough standard on this. And I think that is where it gets a little bit murkier. You ask legislators why they never pursue campaign finance in addition to the obvious self-interest.  It's not a winner with the public. People don't really think about it. It's not something they can kind of easily get their heads around.

And in addition to that, I think there is the more practical question of, do the American people believe that the president should fight with one hand tied behind his back? Because these are the rules, like it or not, that exist.

BAIER: To be fair, Jay Carney also said that, that the president and Democrats on Capitol Hill backed disclose acts, banning loopholes, bringing more transparency to the political system, but they were blocked by Republicans.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Yes, it is always Republicans who prevent Obama from acting ethically. Remarkable how that happens.

Look, this is a man who has descended out of Mount Olympus. That is where he started out. In the clip you showed in 2007, he was the man who was going to redeem our politics, eliminate the money, chase the money changes out of the temple. And now he is breaking new ground in lobbying, selling access, and peddling influence.

Look, here he is demonizing the rich every other day for not paying their fair share, for essentially crushing the hopes of the middle class, and the working class. And now all of a sudden there is a subset of the rich he really likes, those who will give him half a million dollars. And in return he will let them sit on an advisory committee and they will get access to him quarterly, four times a year. Advisory committees are generally where you pick people with wisdom and experience who give you advice from the outside. His idea of a committee of that sort is rich people who will blindly support whatever policy he supports. That is the essence of this organization.  Anything he wants to do, it'll support. It will have a lot of money and will part with it. And that is his idea of advice.

I think it's remarkable. He stoops to conquer and I think it is rather un-pretty regardless of whether if it's a winning issue with the public or not.

BAIER: Does he take a hit for it?

HAYES: No. I think Jeremy is probably right about the way that the public views this. Not terribly interested. There's a little hypocrisy pop, but I don't think it's anything that brings him down.

BAIER: Jeremy, thanks for being here.

PETERS: Thank you.

BAIER: That is it for the panel.  But stay tuned to see something from anchor 101.

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