A video of President Barack Obama filmed in the White House and included in a fundraising e-mail sent to supporters is not legal, two election law experts say, CNSNews.com reported.
The video, which was filmed in the White House, offered participants a chance to win an invitation to dinner with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. But because it is intended to raise funds, the law experts say it constitutes a violation of federal law.
It is a specific prohibition on solicitation [of money] by the president, the vice president, or any member of Congress on any federal property, Cleta Mitchell, a member of the American Bar Association's election law committee, told CNS News.
According to federal law, Title 18, subsection 607 U.S.C., It shall be unlawful for an individual who is an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties.
The White House contends the video is legal, noting the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a memo in 1979 explaining that the president can solicit funds in the White House, so long as he does so in the residential portion of the mansion, not in a room used for official business.
The controversy seems to center around the part of the White House in which the video was filmed.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission and a Heritage Foundation legal analyst - told CNSNews.com that the exemption might not apply in this instance, as the video appears to have been shot in a non-residential portion of the White House.
What they [OLC] said the grey area was, was other rooms that are used not just for official duties, but perhaps were also used for entertaining, he said. The Map Room, as I understand it, is only used for official duties - it's not an entertainment room like other rooms in the White House [that] could be characterized other than the personal residence.
The Map Room is located on the ground floor of the mansion, while the first family resides on the second floor. According to the White House, the Map Room is used for meetings by the president and the first lady.
According to von Spakovsky, if the video was filmed in the Map Room, as it appears, then it is indubitably a violation of the law, because it is clearly part of a fundraising pitch; the type of activity prohibited by law.