In the OOTD this morning, The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove got the inside scoop on President Obama’s fundraising conference call made from Air Force One on Friday, as one of the participants recorded the call and passed it along to Grove. Grove reported that Obama no longer sounds confident and buoyant as he did in 2008, but instead “weary and a tad worried” about his prospects. While Obama sounded ill-informed and almost hysterical at the prospects of being outspent — and indulged in a little Koch Brothers conspiracy thinking to boot, which may make for another OOTD this week — Grove wondered in the piece whether the fundraising call was even legal:
“The majority on this call maxed out to my campaign last time. I really need you to do the same this time,” the president said in a highly unusual (and presumably legal) fundraising pitch from Air Force One on his way back to Washington from Colorado Springs, where he’d been assessing the terrible damage caused by uncontained wildfires. A special phone on the government aircraft is dedicated to political calls that are paid for by the campaign.
Presumably legal? It’s almost certainly legal, although it’s probably in an area with at least a light shade of gray to it. Presidents have to travel using Air Force One regardless of the purpose of the trip — official business or campaigning, although these days it’s getting mighty tough to tell the difference. When used for campaign travel, the campaign has to reimburse taxpayers for AF1’s operating costs, which are considerable (north of $180,000 an hour by some calculations), but since the President is always on duty, he needs the communication and security assets aboard AF1 whenever he travels. This has been true for every incumbent President running for re-election in the post-Watergate era of campaign finance reform. Installing the separate phone for campaigning, with its costs being paid by the campaign, is a reasonable compromise for those trips pertaining only to official business.
However, that doesn’t answer the more pertinent question of the wisdom of fundraising on this particular trip. As Grove notes, Obama was returning to Washington after a highly-visible appearance in Colorado, where wildfires have raged for weeks and massive amounts of effort have been spent to get them under control. Michelle Malkin and her family had to evacuate their house, which is near the Waldo Canyon wildfire that firefighters have begun to get under control, at least for the moment. She remarked yesterday, “Never let a wildfire (or a post-wildfire sightseeing trip flight back home!) go to waste.”
Perhaps it would have been wiser for Obama to wait until he was back at the White House to make that call. Obama has attended more fundraisers already than his last three or four predecessors did in their first (or only) terms combined. Why rush it, then? The ends of the fundraising month and quarter were Saturday, the next day, and Obama apparently wanted to boost his bragging rights, but that deadline forced Obama to blow any political capital earned on the trip. Instead of looking presidential, cool, and calm with his survey of the emergency-management efforts in Colorado, Obama ended up looking desperate and hysterical at the end of the trip’s story arc. The effort was almost certainly legal, and clearly unwise.