President Obama has five West Coast Democratic fundraising events on his schedule this week. To save money for the Democratic National Committee — which has to pay his airfare for partisan functions — he's throwing in a speech on job training at a community college. That makes it an “official business” trip. Or so it seems. Obama is not the first president to serve as fundraiser in chief or to use the bookkeeping ruse of including one nonpolitical and several clearly partisan events on the same trip so that taxpayers can be stuck with a large chunk of the bill for the whole works.
According to the Washington Post, Obama has attended about 400 fundraisers so far during his five and a half years in office, compared to 318 for President George W. Bush over his eight years. Bill Clinton currently holds the record for fundraisers with 638. Obama has more than two years to beat that mark.
|Bill Clinton currently holds the record for fundraisers with 638. Obama has more than two years to beat that mark.|
He almost certainly will because, as the Washington Examiner's Susan Crabtree reported Wednesday, Obama's staff regularly “has made a practice of sprinkling in a few public-policy speeches on trips devoted mostly to fundraising.” Meanwhile, Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, and Libya are enveloped in chaos, and local U.S. officials are dealing with a massive humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border.
The White House has offered a defensive responses to questions about this issue. “When the president travels, he travels with an array of staff and advisers and communications equipment that allows him to do his job from wherever he happens to be,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. But Earnest knows full well that staying in touch is not the problem. Presidents can talk to anybody in the world from anywhere. The problem is the appearance.
First, the sheer number of photo-ops and fundraising trips creates a question of priorities. They make Obama seem oblivious to the gravity of current events. Consider, as a close metaphor, his brief, flippant remarks shortly after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Even prominent liberals in the media thought an international atrocity potentially linked to a major world power should have trumped Obama's pre-planned day of recycled policy speeches, burger-joint photo-ops, and (of course) presidential fundraisers in New York City. But it didn't.
The second problem is that Obama's determination to give so much access to donors, even amid grave world events, creates the same appearance of impropriety that he has endlessly decried in U.S. politics throughout his political career. Yes, politicians of all stripes go out of their way to give donors some form of special access. But, as noted above, Obama may surpass all of his predecessors on this score, despite his constant jeremiads against the role of money in politics, especially since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
Americans want their president to be on top of important events, and not be beholden to wealthy elitists in Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Manhattan. Obama surely can do the former and it’s time to give the latter a rest.