Minutes after he was sworn in as America’s 44th commander in chief, President Obama told the American people, “Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day. Because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”
Fast forward to earlier this month, when Obama traveled to Florida to attend three political fundraisers for his re-election campaign over two days. Obama made sure that taxpayers, not his donors, paid for the trip. By adding on a 34-minute speech — itself a partisan diatribe promoting the Buffett Rule at Florida Atlantic University — Obama was able to classify the entire trip as “official” business, and stick taxpayers with most of the bill.
We wish we could tell you how much taxpayers had to pay to transport and house Obama while he raised money for partisan political purposes, but the Democratic National Committee has declined to disclose how much they reimburse the government. So much for doing “business in the light of day.”
Obama is by no means the first president to use taxpayer resources to campaign, but he has taken it much further than his immediate predecessor. CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Obama has attended more than 115 fundraisers since he announced his re-election on April 4 of last year, 80 percent of them outside Washington. President Bush attended only 90 during his entire first term.
The total taxpayer subsidy for Obama’s campaign travel is probably just a rounding error to the federal government’s $1.2 trillion deficit. But he put the bar very high for himself, and rightly so. As the leader of the executive branch, he sets the tone and the example for his entire administration. His cynical misappropriation of taxpayer funds sends the message that it is OK for every other government employee to do the same.
It tells Secret Service agents who travel to Colombia on the taxpayer dime that it is OK to bring hookers back to their taxpayer funded hotel rooms. Prostitution is legal in Colombia, after all. What’s the harm?
Obama’s example tells General Services Administration employees planning conferences to live it up a bit. After all, such conferences only come around so often. Besides, we’re in a recession and government spending helps the economy. What’s the harm?
Although it is well within presidential precedent, Obama’s cynical betrayal of his inaugural promise has contributed to public distrust in the federal government, which Gallup reports has hit an all-time high.
Congress can and should start to repair that trust by asking the Government Accountability Office to do a full audit of all Obama travel. As a new president once said, “only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”