Federal Politics

Published — February 13, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Four Cabinet members willing to help Democratic super PACs

Fundraising activities are limited, but star power brings in the bucks

Introduction

At least four Cabinet members appear ready and willing to answer President Barack Obama’s call to help fill the coffers of Democratic outside spending groups, which have to date been badly outgunned by better-funded Republican organizations.

After previously denouncing the so-called “super PACs” as a “threat to democracy,” Obama signed off last week on a move to allow top campaign aides and high-level White House officials to raise money.

Some of those going to bat for the president have long histories of raising money for their own political careers, and even bundling money for Obama’s campaign four years ago.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk have all indicated they would be open to participation in activities designed to help the nascent Democratic super PACs, like “Priorities USA Action,” raise money.

“Arne has spoken at campaign-related events in the past on his personal time,” Education spokesman Justin Hamilton told iWatch News. “While he doesn’t yet have any invitations to future events, any that he might attend will be done in strict compliance with the law.”

A similar willingness was also expressed by Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher, whose boss raised more than $13.5 million for his own U.S. Senate campaigns before Obama asked him to become Secretary of the Interior in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Any invitation for the Secretary to speak at campaign events will be considered in the same way we evaluate all scheduling requests, which includes making sure that all appearances fully comply with rules governing political activity,” Fetcher told iWatch News.

A spokesperson in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative likewise noted that whatever campaign-related activities Kirk may engage in would be cleared by the general counsel’s office in advance.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Kirk has helped Obama’s team raise money: He personally bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama’s campaign four years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

This nexus of power and the chase for campaign cash doesn’t sit well with many good-government advocates, especially when there’s no limit on how much money donors can give to super PACs.

“This brings into focus the whole issue of access and influence,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that frequently supports campaign finance reforms. “When you give money, you get access and influence — a way to be heard differently from everyone else.”

Obama’s change of heart was clearly due to the fundraising disadvantage Democratic super PACs and nonprofits have experienced compared to their Republican counterparts.

Generally speaking, federal law prohibits top White House officials like Cabinet secretaries from using their positions to raise money for candidates. The Hatch Act allows government officials to personally donate money to political committees or engage in a variety of partisan activities, so long as they do so during their personal time and do not use government resources.

They may not solicit campaign contributions — but that doesn’t prohibit them from appearing at political fundraisers.

Last year, several administration officials, including Duncan and Chu, appeared at fundraising events for the Obama campaign, as part of a “speakers series,” in which donors contributed money and mingled with high-level White House officials.

Those events, even while upholding the letter of the law, earned criticism from many Republicans, including Karl Rove, the former senior advisor and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

“What they’re doing is establishing a process by which you can buy influence,” Rove said at the time.

Rove himself had appeared at fundraisers for Bush during his time as a White House aide. He also helped operate a “political boiler room” within the White House that was criticized in an official Office of Special Counsel report last year.

Meanwhile, some other seasoned rainmakers in Obama’s Cabinet won’t be on the fundraising stump.

United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who bundled between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama’s campaign four years ago, will not be participating in any fundraising events for either the new super PACs or the president.

The same is true of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who raised more than $200 million during her unsuccessful presidential run in 2008 — and more than $80 million during her two U.S. Senate bids after leaving the White House.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Attorney General Eric Holder, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are among other top Obama administration officials who are not expected to appear at any fundraisers.

“Longstanding Department of Defense policy requires that the Secretary and all Senate-confirmed and non-career senior executive service officials refrain from participating in partisan political activities,” said Carl Woog, a DOD spokesman.

LaHood — who raised about $7 million over his career as a congressman, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — “hasn’t and won’t be participating in any political fundraising,” said DOT spokesman Justin Nisly.

Super PACs were created last year in the wake of two federal court rulings, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. They can collect unlimited amounts of money from individuals, unions and corporations to spend on advertising to elect or defeat candidates, but cannot illegally coordinate with the candidates themselves or make direct contributions.

Not everyone is concerned about Cabinet members being involved in the super PAC money chase.

“You don’t lose your rights to free speech just because you hold public office,” conservative attorney Dan Backer of DB Capitol Strategies said. “You may have a public trust, but you shouldn’t lose your free speech rights.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.