Reporters Grill Jay Carney Over Obama Organization Selling Access
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faces questions about reports that Organizing for Action (OFA), the outside group supporting Obama's agenda, will offer major donors access to the president. Eventually, Carney leaves the podium while still receiving questions.
Q One on a quick subject that has not come up yet. The New York Times reported on Saturday that there's -- it's already been reported Organizing for Action is this outside group connected with some of the President's former campaign aides. They want to push gun control and other issues on his agenda. The report over the weekend that was new was suggesting that donors are going to be able to, if they put up $500,000 -- which is obviously a lot of money -- they're going to get special access to the President. They're going to have quarterly meetings here at the White House. Is that -- that suggests that access to the President is being sold?
MR. CARNEY: No. OFA, which you are asking about, is an independent organization that, as reported in the press, will engage in advocacy and grassroots mobilization activities around public policy issues. It will not be engaged in political campaign-related activities. It has been organized to rally support for the President's policy agenda, but is a separate organization. Administration officials routinely interact with outside advocacy organizations -- and this has been true in prior administrations and it is true in this one.
Q Right, but to promise access to the President of the United States, that's different.
MR. CARNEY: On the broader issue of money and politics generally, the President has been very clear that we should be doing more to reduce the role of money in politics -- the President and Democrats on Capitol Hill -- and back to the DISCLOSE Act, that would close loopholes and bring more transparency to the political system. But it was blocked by Republicans.
President Obama has also outlined additional concrete steps Congress should take to eliminate the corrosive influence of money in Washington like holding Congress to the same conflict of interest standards as the executive branch, and prohibiting lobbyists from bundling and bundlers from lobbying.
The fact is 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.
Q But you're not denying the point that was reported by the New York Times that even though he is for all those reforms, that if you give $500,000 or more to this group you get access to the President -- you get meetings? Is that true or false?
MR. CARNEY: The President is engaged in an effort to pass items on his agenda. And outside organizations that support that agenda, like organizations that are environmental in nature and support aspects of the President's environmental agenda, or organizations that support his manufacturing agenda -- administration officials can meet with them, including the President. But the fact of the matter is this is an independent organization that is supporting an agenda.
Q Is that the price tag to see the President?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q It's not?
MR. CARNEY: Of course not.
Q So $500,000 -- does that guarantee you access to the President?
MR. CARNEY: This is an independent organization. I would point you to that organization for how it raises its money. It has said quite clearly, distinguishing it from other organizations, that it will disclose its donors. But I would direct your questions to them about how they --
Q Donating that amount does not guarantee you meeting with the President?
MR. CARNEY: Correct. And I would point you to that organization.
Q So is the New York Times going to correct that part?
Q When the President ran in 2007, he used this exact language. He said, "The cynics, [and] the lobbyists and the special interests who have turned government into a game only they can play, they write the checks and you get stuck with the bills. They get the access while you get to write a letter." Doesn't this in many ways, though, create a situation that does blur that line of exactly what he was campaigning against in 2007, that he couldn't communicate with those people, even though independent, to say to them, this isn't the way my administration wants to work?
MR. CARNEY: The President has been very clear what his agenda is. This is an independent organization that supports the policy initiatives that the President puts forward, not unlike a variety of so-called 501(c)(4) organizations. The fact of the matter is the President has continually pressed for greater transparency in our political system. He very famously made clear his feelings about a Supreme Court decision that introduced and injected huge sums of money into our political campaigns. And he calls on Republicans to support the DISCLOSE Act, which he and Democrats support, which would at the very least allow for the public to know who is funding these organizations.
Again, this is not an organization -- and I would refer you to them -- but this is not an organization, based on what they've said, that is involved in political campaigns, that is involved in issue advocacy. Thanks, all.
Q You said no quarterly meetings, but some meetings with the President? Would you get a meeting with the President if you donated $500,000?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the organization.