Obama Raffle Video Not Legal, Election Law Experts Say
(CNSNews.com) – A video of President Barack Obama filmed in the White House and included in a fundraising e-mail sent to supporters is not legal, two election law experts told CNSNews.com.
The video was included in an e-mail sent to supporters of President Obama promoting a fundraising drive that offered participants a chance to win an invitation to dinner with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The video was filmed in the White House and, because it is intended to raise funds, constitutes a violation of federal law, according to two election law experts contacted by CNSNews.com.
“I think this is a violation [of the law],” Cleta Mitchell, a member of the American Bar Association’s election law committee, told CNSNews.com.
“It is a specific prohibition on solicitation [of money] by the president, the vice president, or any member of Congress on any federal property,” she said.
According to federal law (Title 18, subsection 607 U.S.C.), “It shall be unlawful for an individual who is an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties.”
The White House contends that the video is legal, noting that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a memo in 1979 explaining that the president can solicit funds in the White House, so long as he does so in the residential portion of the mansion, not in a room used for official business.
However, Hans von Spakovsky – former member of the Federal Election Commission and a Heritage Foundation legal analyst – told CNSNews.com that that exemption may not apply in this case because it appears that the video was not filmed in an area where the president actually lives.
“What they [OLC] said the grey area was, was other rooms that are used not just for official duties but perhaps were also used for entertaining,” he explained. “The Map Room, as I understand it, is only used for official duties – it’s not an entertainment room like other rooms in the White House [that] could be characterized other than the personal residence.”
The controversy revolves around where in the White House the video was filmed. From other White House photographs and videos, including a taping of the weekly presidential address, the room appears to be the Map Room, located in the mansion area of the White House.
However, the Map Room is located on the ground floor of the mansion while the first family resides on the second floor. According to the White House, the Map Room is used for meetings by the president and first lady.
Also, President Obama has used the Map Room to conduct interviews with journalists, meet with the Dalai Lama, and launch his recent initiative aimed at cutting wasteful spending in government. Most notably, Obama used the Map Room to take the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts in 2009.
If the video was filmed in the Map Room, as it appears to be, then there is no question it violates the law, von Spakovsky explained, because it is clearly part of a fundraising pitch, precisely the type of activity prohibited under the law.
“The video is clearly designed to get people to participate in this raffle and the video takes you directly to a web site – directs you to a web site – where there’s an immediate solicitation for funds,” he said.
Von Spakovsky further said that, at best, Obama was “bending, if not breaking the law” in making the video in the White House.
Cleta Mitchell was more blunt, saying, “it’s a criminal offense.”