ABC's Good Morning America on Friday ignored new details of Barack Obama's pay-for-access scheme, the only morning show to skip the story. The President's campaign group, now renamed Organizing for Action (OFA), has promised quarterly meetings with the President for donations of $500,000. NBC's Today and CBS This Morning both covered the growing controversy. GMA, which did find time to focus on the latest Justin Bieber gossip, avoided it.
Today's Chuck Todd offered surprisingly hard-hitting criticism of Obama, lecturing, "When it comes to Barack Obama's views on money and politics, his actions have rarely matched his words...When it comes to big money in politics, President Obama has often talked the talk...But critics say he's rarely walked the walk." [See video below. MP3 audio here.]
Todd highlighted the hypocrisy: "Adding fuel to the fire, reports that OFA organizers are considering promising donors who give $500,000 quarterly meetings with President Obama, a practice candidate Obama once criticized."
Todd first got to this story on the February 25 edition of MSNBC's Daily Rundown. As the MRC's Brent Baker pointed out: "Yet, though Todd is NBC’s chief White House correspndent, nothing about it aired on NBC’s Today, Nightly News nor Meet the Press all weekend, Monday or Tuesday morning."
The liberal Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 complained, "President Obama ought to shut down this organization promptly." Way back on January 23, he assailed the plan in a Huffington Post op-ed. Wertheimer excoriated the "dangerous and unprecedented path" the President has set upon.
Although ABC ignored this story, the network has previously highlighted Wertheimer when he's gone after Republicans.
In the same week that the administration cancelled White House tours for the public, citing sequestration, the President's group announced that a $500,000 donation can guarantee the wealthy access to the White House. One would think that such an apparent double standard would interest ABC. Yet, the network hasn't covered OFA since January 22.
On that day's World News, Jon Karl blandly explained, "The President's new advocacy group will operate like a campaign, running TV ads and sending volunteers out to knock on doors, promoting the President's agenda."
Over on CBS This Morning, Charlie Rose interviewed Jim Messina and grilled Obama's former campaign manager. Rose warned the Democrat, "...This is the kind of thing that President Obama would be the first person to criticize Republican supporters for, and that it sounds like giving people an opportunity to pay for access."
Rose pressed, "It's clear that people who contribute to this are promised some ability to come to the White House and meet with the President."
Norah O'Donnell deemed it a "double standard." She lamented, "You've got people who can... contribute unlimited amounts of money, and the President's going to go talk to them."
A transcript of the March 8 Today segment, which aired at 7:15am EST, follows:
LESTER HOLT: Government watchdogs are raising new questions this morning about an advocacy group pushing President Obama's agenda. Are wealthy donors being promised special access to the President? NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is at the White House for us. Chuck, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Money and Politics; $500,000 for A Meeting With President Obama]
CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Lester. You know, when it comes to Barack Obama's views on money and politics, his actions have rarely matched his words. And with word that he wants to keep his political machine alive, how he plans on going about raising money for that group is coming under new scrutiny. When it comes to big money in politics, President Obama has often talked the talk.
BARACK OBAMA: If your voices aren't heard, then the lobbyists and special interests, they'll fill the void.
TODD: But critics say he's rarely walked the walk In 2008, he was the first presidential candidate to quit the public financing system, raising and spending unlimited amounts of money, leading to the two most expensive elections in history. In 2010, he lectured the Supreme Court over its Citizens United decision.
OBAMA: The Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the flood gates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.
TODD: But in 2012, faced with millions of dollars of unlimited Republican super-PAC money, the Obama campaign decided to get into the super-PAC game.
DAVID AXELROD: We had to make an adjustment.
TODD: Now Mr. Obama is keeping his campaign machine alive with a non-profit group, Organizing for Action, headed by former campaign manager Jim Messina. While OFA is trumpeted as a grassroots effort, the money behind it could be anything but. As organizers will accept unlimited donations from individuals, while promising full disclosure of its donors. Adding fuel to the fire, reports that OFA organizers are considering promising donors who give $500,000 quarterly meetings with President Obama, a practice candidate Obama once criticized.
OBAMA: Even if they're not asking for a quid pro quo, it means that the people you're talking to all the time are folks who – they're not struggling.
TODD: OFA head Jim Messina is defending donors' potential meetings with the President, insisting they will not have influence, writing, "These are not opportunities to lobby – they are briefings on the positions the President has taken and the status of seeing them through." But government watchdogs are skeptical.
FRED WERTHEIMER [DEMOCRACY 21]: It is a vehicle that will allow big donors to buy corrupting influence with the administration. President Obama ought to shut down this organization promptly.
TODD: And the other issue here, Lester, that watchdog groups say, he's exasperating [exacerbating] an already bad system by doing this and an ends-justifies-the-means mentality is the wrong way to go.