- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 30, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — President Obama wrapped up a month of brisk fundraising with two more events here Thursday amid an emerging rift with Jewish donors and accusations that he is exploiting the White House in his hunt for campaign cash.

In a not-quite-full hotel ballroom, Mr. Obama poked fun at Republican presidential candidates “parading around the country” while he works at his “day job.”

“They won’t have a plan, but they’ll attack,” the president told several hundred supporters. “The American people want us to exchange ideas about the future. I know that’s the contest America needs and, by the way, that’s the contest we will win.”

Outside the hotel, hundreds of demonstrators, including many tea party activists, greeted the president. Signs included “Someone else for President 2012” and “Learn from Greece.”

“He should cut the spending and respect members of Congress,” said Diana Reimer of Lansdale, Pa., co-founder of the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots.

Mr. Obama’s June cash scramble concluded with a $71,600-per-couple dinner Thursday night at the Philadelphia home of Comcast Corp. executive David L. Cohen, a powerhouse fundraiser and longtime associate of former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell.

It was the president’s 11th fundraiser since June 13 as his campaign aims to top second-quarter goals of $60 million and 450,000 individual donors.

The president told guests that the deficit-reduction talks with Republicans hinge on two things: reducing the costs of Medicare and Medicaid and raising revenue.

“The truth is, you could figure out on the back of an envelope how to get this thing done,” Mr. Obama said. “The question is one of political will.”

As the fundraising deadline approached, Democrats tried to quell concerns among Jewish supporters about Mr. Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, particularly his May 20 speech calling for borders based on the cease-fire line that existed before the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the proposed borders “indefensible” and suggested that the plan would weaken his country’s security.

Some of the president’s Jewish supporters say the development has caused them to withdraw their backing. Lawyer Joseph Wolfson, a Democrat from Philadelphia, said his misgivings about Mr. Obama have him considering voting Republican.

“Others do share my concerns,” Mr. Wolfson said of the Jewish community. “I also believe it will affect [the president’s] fundraising.”

Said Mr. Rendell, “It’s not unfair to say the large-donor base has questions. There’s a benefit that comes from the president sitting down and talking directly to donors, for example, on the administration’s policy on Israel.”
A former Democratic National Committee chairman, Mr. Rendell described his home state as “absolutely up for grabs” in 2012. Mr. Obama won Pennsylvania by 11 percentage points in 2008.

“That’s not going to happen again,” Mr. Rendell said. “It’s going to be a tough fight.”

He added that he could envision the eventual Republican nominee fashioning “a road map to victory” in Pennsylvania if the candidate’s message is focused on jobs and is socially moderate.

Democrats point out that the president did raise about $1 million two weeks ago in Miami at a high-priced event aimed in part at Jewish donors. Mr. Cohen, the Philadelphia host who raised $6.1 million for Mr. Obama in 2008, declined to comment.

The Obama campaign has emphasized its early success attracting a large number of small donors, rather than events like the one at the cable executive’s home, where supporters paid $10,000 just to get in the door and $35,800 for “premium dinner seating.”

“We measure our success not in dollars but in people,” said a statement from the campaign signed “Barack” and emailed to millions of people.

The push for small donors has included a video pitch by the president, taped at the White House, offering “dinner with Barack” and Vice President Joseph R. Biden for four people whose names will be drawn from a pool of supporters.

The solicitation, coupled with a DNC-organized meeting March 7 with high-priced donors in the Blue Room of the White House, spurred criticism from government watchdogs that Mr. Obama is exploiting the executive mansion for fundraising.

Melanie Sloan, head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, called the events “unseemly,” but she also said they are legal.

Federal election law says federal employees, including the president, cannot solicit campaign donations “while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an officer or employee of the United States.”
That restriction doesn’t cover the private residence portion of the White House, though it’s not clear in which room the video was recorded.

White House officials also claimed that the pitch is technically not a fundraising appeal, because the president doesn’t explicitly ask for money. Anyone can sign up for the raffle, although the campaign wants donations of at least $5. The president’s video, taped by a DNC crew, is accompanied by a form in which supporters can check boxes to donate from $5 to $700 to the campaign.

White House officials pointed to video clips of other presidents who have used footage of the White House in campaign ads, including Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Mr. Bush did use video of the White House in an campaign ad that didn’t appeal for money. As president, Bill Clinton also was the target of complaints about selling access to the White House for campaign cash.

Mr. Obama, who once supported the public financing of presidential elections, shattered fundraising records in 2008 by raising about $750 million. In the first half of 2007, he raised $59 million.

There have been suggestions that he will try to raise $1 billion for his re-election, although campaign officials have been downplaying that sum.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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