After refusing for years to open all fund-raisers to the press, Barack Obama has a policy change.
WASHINGTON — When Barack Obama travels to New York for two big-dollar events in private homes tonight, the campaign will allow coverage by a print pool reporter. Obama for the first time is opening all his fund-raising events — in private homes and public places — to a press pool as he seeks to draw a contrast between himself and John McCain when it comes to ethics and transparency.
The policy switch comes as Obama starts his historic general election campaign and is getting his own house in order.
Obama’s decision to open these closed events represents a “sea change in terms of transparency,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, dedicated to more transparency in government. Obama is “practicing what he preaches about the importance of building greater public trust in politicians through transparency. It is a dramatic step for any politician to take.”
This higher degree of disclosure came as Obama started hitting McCain because all his finance events are closed to the press. Obama made transparency a centerpiece of the primary bid he clinched Tuesday and plans to highlight it in his contest against McCain, especially since his own position now is so starkly at odds with McCain’s.
Obama’s own record on access has been evolving. Obama only allowed a pool reporter to cover his presidential fund-raisers in public places on a routine basis since January. Obama spokesman Linda Douglass said the campaign was “Revisiting this, [because] we realized this is not the right policy.”
McCain’s campaign stubbornly resists any appeal for openness when it comes to knowing more about who is helping McCain raise money. McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told me, “Despite Barack Obama’s adjustment, John McCain remains the most accessible, available candidate to the media and to voters in history.”
Douglass told me the new policy was embraced at this time because “we are getting into the general election now and we are trying to constantly re-examine how we do things. We are determined to be as open and transparent a campaign as you have seen, so this is a step in that direction.”
Douglass said the campaign will reveal the names of hosts and the price and put all fund-raising events on the public schedules of Obama and his wife, Michelle. Her events will also be open to pool coverage. Last month, she headlined a fund-raiser in California the campaign did not announce.
At issue is not who gives — that eventually is disclosed under federal law — but who is helping Obama by hosting an event. That information does not have to be made public.
FOOTNOTE: My regular readers know that I have been pushing Obama on this fund-raising transparency front for years, since his run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, when he declined to release any details about his events.
That Obama has come to his higher, better, more transparent policy should be applauded. That’s real change.
Anyway — this new policy can be helpful to Obama. Remember how Obama got in trouble last April because of the comment he made about those “bitter” working-class Pennsylvanians who clung to guns, religion, anti-immigrant and anti-trade sentiments — that came at a closed San Francisco fund-raiser in a private home. If a reporter had been there, Obama might have been more careful.