POLITICS

Records indicate Obama adviser campaigned on taxpayer dime

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

On Jan. 24, 2011, the Office of Special Counsel released a report concluding that Karl Rove and the White House Office of Political Affairs under George W. Bush had violated the Hatch Act, which bans campaigning by government officials on the public dime.

OSC cited the Bush team for holding 75 campaign briefings. “The investigators found that most of these briefings took place in federal workplaces or while the employees were on duty,” per The New York Times' contemporaneous report.

That same day, President Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina — who was wrapping up his last week at the White House before leaving to run the re-election campaign — hosted a meeting at the White House with key members of the Obama team.

White House visitor records indicate that Erik Smith attended that meeting. “In 2008 and 2012, Erik was a senior advisor for advertising and message development to the Obama-Biden presidential campaign where he designed, developed and placed television, radio and print advertising as part of a team that,” according to his work bio at Blue Engine Message and Media LLC. “Erik produced high-profile special events for the Obama campaign, including the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and the historic 30-minute network television broadcast seen by more than 35 million viewers in October 2008.  Erik also served as Creative Director for the 2009 and 2013 Presidential Inauguration Committees.”

The White House did not respond to The Washington Examiner‘s request for information about this meeting or confirm that the Erik Smith named on the log is the same Obama adviser. Maybe Jim Messina knows three Erik Smiths.

But Laura B. Capps, Abigail Witt and Sheila O’Connell are also named as participants in that meeting. Laura Burton Capps is a veteran of the Clinton White House who works at Blue Engine with Smith. Abigail Witt began working as political director of the Obama re-election effort in September of 2011. (O’Connell served as a state director of Maryland for the Obama campaign in 2008.)

“The Obama administration, just last week, announced that it was terminating its own version of the Office of Political Affairs, as Mr. Obama decided to move his re-election campaign operation to Chicago, with the duties of the political office being taken up by the Democratic National Committee,” the New York Times reported that day in its coverage of the OSC report on the Bush-era Hatch Act violations.

Messina’s meeting with Capps, Smith, Witt and O’Connell was scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. and end at 11:59 p.m. (The log does not list their times of arrival at and departure from the White House, which might shorten the time frame.) The meeting was scheduled on Jan. 21, the same day the White House announced that Messina would lead the re-election campaign.

“He will be the president of the United States,” Messina told the Times, “and we’ll be building this grass-roots campaign, waiting to get an opponent and doing things you’ve got to do.”

On Jan. 25, according to the visitor log, Messina received Jefrey Pollock at the White House. Pollock founded Global Strategy Group,which boasts about being “a winning factor” for the Obama campaign. (GSG worked on advertising for Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC led Laura Capps’ husband, Bill Burton.)

On Jan. 27, Messina met with Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Joe Rospars and Stephanie Schriock. The Obama team had already announced that O’Malley Dillon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee and veteran of the 2008 campaign, would work as a deputy campaign manager under Messina in the re-election bid. Rospars worked as the Obama campaign’s new media director in 2008 and his chief digital strategist in the 2012 cycle. Schriock is president of Emily’s List, a big-money organization “dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office” that also found time to attack Mitt Romney and keep track of “the Republican war on women” calendar.

Messina’s meeting with Rospars, which the visitor log indicates was scheduled on Jan. 18, had a scheduled start time of 4 p.m., with an 11:59 p.m. scheduled end time. At 9:12 on the morning of Jan. 27, O’Malley Dillon was also scheduled to visit Messina from 4 pm to 11:59, according to White House visitor records. About 45 minutes later, Schriock was scheduled to meet Messina from 5:15 to 11:59 pm.

White House visitor records indicate that Rospars arrived early, at 3:06, and left at 5:16. O’Malley Dillon arrived at the White House at 3:58 and left at 5:50. Schriock’s arrival and departure times are not recorded.

The White House did not respond to The Examiner‘s request for information about any of these meetings.

On Jan. 31, 2011, the New York Times called for “an end to Bush-era politics” in an editorial written apropos of the OSC findings that embarrassed the Bush team. The editorial contained no criticism of Obama, only recommendations.

“The Office of Political Affairs should be abolished, as a House committee recommended in 2008,” the editors wrote. “There is nothing wrong with having White House officials assess the political atmosphere and enact policies with an eye on re-election, but the Hatch Act should be revised to explicitly prohibit officials from working on their party’s political campaigns while drawing government salaries.”

Obama had already closed his Office of Political Affairs. “[A]ides said that by moving the political staff to the Democratic National Committee, the restructuring of the political operation could reduce the likelihood that it will become a target of an investigation by the Republican-led House Oversight Committee,” The New York Times had reported on Jan. 20.

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