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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Obama raising money for Democrats in California

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President Barack Obama (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Barack Obama
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Barack Obama is on a three-day fundraising swing through California and what he says at some of his stops will be anybody’s guess.

Two of the four events he’s attending in Los Angeles and San Francisco are closed-door. No media allowed in.

The California events cap a week in which Obama flew from coast to coast to help raise much-needed campaign cash for fellow Democrats in the run-up to the Nov. 4 congressional elections. Democratic control of the Senate is at stake and Obama has been urging supporters to help his party preserve its majority.

Obama also raised money this week in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut.


It’s one place where the money is. California is a liberal bastion, making it a regular stop for Democratic candidates who need cash, that all-important lifeblood of political campaigns. Some areas, like the movie-star havens of Los Angeles, are home to lots of people with lots of money who like giving it away to support like-minded Democrats, and some Republicans. Many are glad to host events that draw the president, such as Gwyneth Paltrow. Introducing Obama at an event at her Brentwood home on Thursday night, she gushed that the president is “so handsome that I can’t speak properly.” The New York City borough of Manhattan has been another one of Obama’s regular fundraising destinations.


We don’t know because Democratic officials refuse to say. They also give such broad ranges for ticket prices to fundraisers that it makes precise calculations impossible. For example, tickets to the Paltrow reception started at $1,000, while the price of admission to a dinner was a minimum of $15,000, party officials said. That suggests that some supporters could have paid higher amounts to get into either event. They also don’t release the number of people who paid a particular price for tickets. Republicans don’t either.


Two of his four California events are closed-door “roundtables,” meaning the media are completely barred from attending. The only people who will know who said what will be the president himself and the people in the room with him. About half of the fundraisers Obama headlined since July were “closed press,” according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which pushes for open and accountable government. Events Friday in Los Angeles and Saturday in San Francisco are “closed press.” But reporters are not barred from all of Obama’s fundraisers. They are allowed in to private homes, such as Paltrow’s, when he makes formal remarks, but are then ushered out when it’s time for Obama to begin answering questions from his supporters.


White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz says it’s “more conducive” to lock the media out of the room altogether when Obama isn’t delivering prepared remarks and just wants to have more of an informal discussion with his supporters. Schultz says media access to the president’s fundraisers has improved greatly since Obama took office because reporters get to hear him deliver prepared remarks at private homes. He attributed the change to the administration’s “commitment to transparency.”


Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation, says keeping the press out “seems a bit hypocritical” for someone who promised the most transparent administration in history. Kiely says that whatever a president says or does can affect the country and that denying the press access also denies the public access.


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