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The White House’s Secret Participation at College Dems Convention (Update)

Morgen on October 1, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I posted last week on how the White House, starting last May, organized a grassroots lobbying campaign with the arts community in support of ObamaCare. Yosi Sergant, a former White House staffer who had recently moved over to the National Endowment for the Arts, was ultimately scape-goated and lost his job. But there should be no doubt that the White House, through the Office of Public Engagement, was completely behind this entire effort.

The White House continues to deny any wrongdoing, but after Sergant’s resignation ABC News reported that the Administration would be publishing new guidelines to avoid any further “appearances of impropriety” on the part of Executive Office staff. The White House published a memo documenting these new guidelines late last week. You can read the full document here but I want to highlight just a couple of items (emphasis added):

Avoid Even the Appearance of Impropriety. President Obama has pledged to restore Americans’ trust in their government. Strict adherence to the rules is not enough – we need to avoid even the appearance of politicization in order to ensure people’s faith in the actions of the Administration. This means always asking whether an action under consideration could be construed as inappropriate. If there is even a possible question that could be raised regarding an activity under contemplation, you should consult with your agency’s general counsel before proceeding.

Engagement with Non-Governmental Organizations and Citizens Should Be Even-Handed. Agencies should always ensure that they serve the needs of the American public without regard to party. This does not mean that government officials are not permitted to meet with individuals or select groups as agency needs and public interest demand. Rather, government officials should not give preference to one person or organization over another based on improper political consideration.

Now, the White House would have you believe that not only did they not act inappropriately with regards to the arts community and the NEA, but that this was just one isolated incident. Nothing to see here folks, move on – and in case there are any lingering concerns, here are our new ethical guidelines which will prevent anything like this from ever happening again. (Not that we did anything wrong.)

Far from being an isolated incident, I believe that the primary focus of the Office of Public Engagement has been to coordinate with liberal interest groups and non-profit organizations in support of the President’s agenda. I’ve uncovered numerous examples, but am going to highlight just one of the more egregious cases here. What for example could be more overtly partisan than sending multiple White House staffers to speak at a national convention of young Democrats? Where the focus was on transitioning “from electioneering to organizing” for health care and energy reform.

On Friday, July 24, 2009, the White House Office of Public Engagement sent not one, not two, but at least five senior staff members to the National Convention of College DemocratsBuffy Wicks, Kal Pen (Modi), Karen Richardson, Greg Bond, and Greg Nelson. The strange thing is, the White House speakers are not listed on the official agenda for the convention. I discovered their participation on this blog, and confirmed it by reviewing the group’s Flickr feed. Look, here’s Kal Pen…and oh, here’s Buffy Wicks & Greg Nelson.

Campus Progress was also kind enough to live blog the event. Here are some enlightening comments from the feed:

Matt Zeitlin:  Emily is going into the room for the morning plenary, “The Policy of the Obama Administration” with Karen Richardson, from the WH office of public engagement, Greg Nelson, Associate Director of Energy Environment and Technology and Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the WH Office of public engagement

Matt Zeitlin:  Karen Richardson works for Valerie Jarret at the Whife House Office of Public Engagement, she’s worked for Obama since 2005 when he was just an Illinois senator, she worked on the campaign in 2007 and 2008 and actually worked for Health and Human Services, but was assigned to Public Engagement to help press for health reform.

Matt Zeitlin:  It’s worth pointing out that the people discussing the Obama administration’s policy are all public engagement or PR people, not policy people. CDA doesn’t seem to have any policymakers on the policy panel.

echomikeromeo:  Sounds like the office of public engagement’s job is basically to engage with and mobilize groups like CDA.

echomikeromeo:  Looks like the panel will be talking about health care and environment. No surprises there.

echomikeromeo:  Greg Nelson: “put pressure on your members of congress, trade associations, fellow College Democrats” to support president’s agenda.

echomikeromeo:  Interesting how “Democrat” seems to mean WH agenda, not anyone else’s version.

echomikeromeo:  Richardson: stay in touch with office of public engagement. Also, call your member of Congress.

echomikeromeo:  Buffy asks audience what 4 areas of domestic policy are. Silence. Buffy: “come on guys! Energy, education, heath care, economy!”

It’s clear that the White House OPE staff were at this convention solely to mobilize support for the Administration’s political agenda, particularly ObamaCare. They weren’t there to educate or discuss policy, as made clear by the live commentary.

And it’s also notable that the very next series of speakers were all with Obama’s designated political organization, Organizing for America. And according to the agenda, and the comments on the other blog, the meeting transitioned into a series of training sessions on field organization, media/communications, and fundraising. (What does Obama need Organizing for America for when he has the OPE right in the White House?)

So I don’t think there is any question that the presence of White House staff at this event violated the ethical guidelines outlined above. Now granted, these guidelines were not published until after this event occurred. But given the White House’s equivocating over responsibility for the events with the NEA, I think it’s important to point out that this has been a pattern of behavior on their part. And frankly, I really don’t expect it to stop unless the media starts paying closer attention.

More to come…

Update: From the same liveblog feed of the College Dems convention:

echomikeromeo:  Overheard: “I hate Jewish people, but I love Judaism.”

Yikes! I’m sure there was some context there, but I’m having a hard time imagining what it might be. Wait, did Jimmy Carter attend…?

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