Presidents have engaged in the perhaps unseemly but legal practice of using the White House as a backdrop for their campaign ads pretty much since campaign ads became a thing. But now the head of the RNC is calling President Barack Obama’s decision to do the same thing an “apparent crime.”
“As Chairman of the Republican National Committee, I have the responsibility to hold the President accountable for his reckless spending, for the unsustainable growth of government and the crushing debt he is leaving for future generations of Americans, and now, sadly, for his apparent criminal behavior,” RNC Chair Reince Priebus wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
“I never expected I would be in this regrettable position, but the President’s conduct and the White House staff’s stonewalling leave me no choice,” Priebus wrote.
It all started when the Obama presidential campaign released a video of Obama asking supporters to get involved in his reelection campaign and enter a contest to win dinner with him and the Vice President. Some Republicans raised questions about the ad being filmed in the White House.
Priebus writes that it is a “crime for the President of the United States to solicit political contributions in a place of official government business.” True enough. But ads filmed in the White House residence are perfectly legal, according to a 1979 opinion by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Since that’s where the White House counsel says the ad was filmed, we’re square, right?
Not quite, says Priebus. “According to multiple individuals with knowledge of the White House’s rooms and layout, the video appears to have been recorded in the Map Room,” he writes. “According to news reports, however, the White House Counsel has indicated that the video was filmed somewhere in the residential portion of the White House.”
Only one problem: the Map Room is part of the residence. The White House is pushing back on Priebus’ criticism.
“As we have said in the past, this was wholly appropriate and routinely done in past administrations, as evidenced by an abundance of examples spanning the past three decades,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement to TPM and other news outlets. “In fact, experts and lawyers have said publicly that all of what this administration is doing is above board.”
Several previous presidents have used the White House in their campaign ads. President George W. Bushfilmed an ad with his wife in the White House residence back in 2004 and a number of President Bill Clinton’s advertisements featured the White House.
- Reince Priebus, RNC Chair: Obama Fundraising Video Should Be Investigated For ‘Criminal Behavior’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- GOP Chief Seeks Probe Into Obama Video (blogs.wsj.com)
- Priebus says Obama video a ‘crime’ (politico.com)