A recent Bloomberg Businessweek story focuses on how both the Romney and Obama campaigns try to control the story by limiting press access to fund-raisers. That's comparatively rare considering usually journalists like to complain only about Republicans doing so.
"Policies to limit coverage at a fundraiser help promote a feeling of exclusivity for top donors, and insulate candidates from verbal gaffes that have the potential to overpower their public messages," says the article by Bloomberg News’s Kate Andersen Brower and Julie Bykowic, summarizing why both campaigns do it. And yet, while both campaigns restrict the press to being present only for portions of most fundraisers, the story - and a follow-up commentary published yesterday - reveal just how much further the Obama campaign goes in trying to prevent the public from knowing what Obama says to donors in private.
According to the report, “Now campaign workers (for Obama) gather up donors’ mobile phones in plastic bags at some fundraisers, including one held May 14 at the New York home of the Blackstone Group’s president and chief operating officer, Tony James.”
Kristen Hinman, a Bloomberg associate editor, comments, "Let’s break that down: On the same day that his campaign unleashed a brutal media blitz attacking Romney’s background in private equity, the president showed up for a fundraiser hosted by one of the country’s most successful private equity executives. Before the president delivered his remarks, his staffers didn’t ask people to turn their cell phones off. They confiscated the phones of the people who had paid $35,800 apiece for the privilege. ... That way nobody could Facebook or tweet or, presumably worse, videotape the president’s statements for a public airing.
"This wasn’t a one-off. It was one fundraiser among others where the handlers enforced the check-your-phone-at-the-door policy," writes Hinman. "Obama’s handlers are apparently hoping to avoid a repeat of a dustup in 2008. That year, as Obama and Hillary Clinton were duking it out for the Democratic nomination, a donor at a San Francisco fundraiser taped Obama saying that small-town voters who had lost their jobs were 'bitter,' and had no other way to deal with their anger than to 'cling to guns or religion' — and then released the tape to a news organization that wasn’t allowed into the event.
The story indicates that only Obama's campaign treats its mega-donors with such a high level of distrust. The Romney campaign doesn't confiscate donors' phones, though it does try to limit press access, especially after a private backyard fundraiser in Palm Beach, Florida, last month, when reporters overheard Romney offering a few specific policy proposals, including eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction on second homes and shuttering the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that he had not yet spoken of in public, and his comments were reported in the media.
"That the president thinks his donors can’t be trusted with their phones has to offend them, whether they’re giving $35 or $35,000, though surely there are people who accept the terms as a condition of entering a special club. It’s hard not to see how that offends everyone else," Hinman writes. "Running for president isn’t about hosting a so-called private discussion. What could the president possibly have to tell a crowd of Wall Street executives that isn’t fit for the rest of us?"
While it's not surprising that a large media outlet like Bloomberg/Business Week to whine about the campaigns limiting access, it is refreshing to see them also be offended that the Obama campaign is trying to censor and control the speech of ordinary Americans by confiscating their cell phones.
After all, Obama could avoid embarrassing YouTube videos, Facebook posts and tweets about him denigrating small-town Americans who own guns and go to church by the simple act of not saying such things - in public, or in private.