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February 25, 2013

White House says access to Obama isn't for sale

Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted Monday that access to the White House isn't for sale -- though he didn't rule out that Obama would meet with big pocket donors to an outside political group that was created to push his agenda.

The remarks came as Carney was pressed about a New York Times story that said the group -- Organizing for Action -- will grant donors special access to the president. Carney gave reporters a flat "no" to a question of whether "access to the president is being sold."

Carney said OFA is an independent organization that will engage in "advocacy and grassroots mobilization activities around public policy issues" and won't be engaged in "political campaign related activities."

The Times reported that "giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama's group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House."

Asked about whether that rose to the level of selling access to Obama, Carney said: "There are a variety of rules governing interaction between administration officials and outside groups, and administration officials follow those rules, White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action, and while they may appear at appropriate OFA events, in their official capacities they will not be raising money."

Reporters though, pressed on, noting that the story says that those who give will have access to the president.

Carney replied that Obama is trying to get his priorities passed and that "outside organizations that support that agenda, like the organizations that are environmental in nature and support aspects of the president's environmental agenda, or organizations that support his manufacturing agenda, you know, he -- they -- administration officials can meet with them, including the president."

Asked for a second time whether the donation amounted to a "price tag" to see Obama, Carney said flatly, "no."

"This is an independent organization. I would point you to that organization for how it raises its money," he said. "It has said quite clearly, distinguishing it from other organizations, that it will disclose its donors. But I would point -- I would direct your questions to them."

Reporters didn't let up, pointing that when Obama ran for office, he decried special interests who wrote checks to secure special access.

"Doesn't this in many ways, though, create a situation that does blur that line of exactly what he was campaigning against in 2007," a reporter asked.

Carney repeated that the group was an "independent organization" and insisted that Obama has "continually pressed for greater transparency in our political system," noting his opposition to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to the creation of Super PACS and his support for the Disclose Act, which would require public disclosure of the organizations.

The Los Angeles Times earlier this month reported that OFA was looking at giving $500,000 bundlers perks, including "an invitation to quarterly meetings with Obama." The story noted "such proximity to the president is nothing new for those being courted, who include the most prolific fundraisers for Obama's political campaigns."


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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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