The President is, as the head of his party, certainly entitled to give campaign speeches on behalf of Democratic candidates such as Martha Coakley: an individual who advanced her career by keeping an innocent man (Amirault) in prison. We suspect, however, that he cannot legally use taxpayer money for this purpose. Whitehouse.gov, as the property of the United States Government, is the property of America’s taxpayers. Several pages at this Web site endorse the election or re-election of Democratic candidates, and one recommends that people visit Organizing for America (barackobama.com).
We are not an attorney and cannot say whether it is or is not legal to use a Web site of the Federal government to host electioneering speeches that the President delivered legally in other venues such as campaign rallies, but we must certainly question it and invite attorneys to weigh in on the subject. The Hatch Act says, Subject to the provisions of subsection (b), an employee may take an active part in political management or in political campaigns, except an employee may not—(1) use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” This suggests that the President or any other elected official can campaign for a party member, but cannot use government resources such as Congressional franking privileges, government-owned Web sites, or similar resources for this purpose. We also question a pitch for Barackobama.com (Organizing for America) at Whitehouse.gov.
President Obama gave a speech on behalf of New Jersey’s governor Jon Corzine, and a copy of this speech is hosted at Whitehouse.gov. It is depicted as a “press release” but it nonetheless uses a U.S. Government Web site to advocate the election of a political candidate.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT LUNCHEON FUNDRAISER WITH GOVERNOR JON CORZINE
Robert B. Meyner Reception Center
Holmdel, New Jersey
3:28 P.M. EDT
…It is great to be back in New Jersey. I’m proud to stand with a man who wakes up every single day thinking about your future and the future of this state — and that’s your governor, Jon Corzine. (Applause.)
Like many of us in public life today, Jon is a leader who’s been called to govern at some extraordinary times. He’s been tested by the worst recession in half a century — a recession that was caused by years of recklessness and irresponsibility, and obviously had a disproportionate impact here in New Jersey, given the closeness of the financial sector to the state.
Part of the crisis was caused by the same small thinking that’s plagued our politics for decades — the kind of thinking that says we can afford to tinker around with big problems, put off tough decisions, defer the big challenges, tell people only what they want to hear.
That’s not the kind of leader Jon Corzine is. He didn’t run for this office on the promise that change would be easy, and he certainly has not avoided what is hard. This isn’t somebody who’s here because of some special interest or political machine — he’s here because he cares about what happens to the people of New Jersey.
This is a man who has provided more property tax relief than any other governor in New Jersey’s history. (Applause.) This is the first governor in 60 years who has reduced the size of government. At the same time, this is also a leader who has stood up against those who wanted to cut what matters, like education. Jon Corzine has not only protected funding for New Jersey’s schools, he’s reformed them with higher standards, and now students in this state rank at the top of the country in reading and math. That’s a testimony to Jon Corzine’s leadership. (Applause.)
Since Jon Corzine became governor, the Children’s Health Insurance Program has been expanded to reach 80,000 more children — 80,000 who got health insurance who did not have it before. New Jersey has become a leader in clean energy. And Jon Corzine wasn’t just the first governor to pass an economic recovery plan for his state; he was an ally in helping the federal government, my administration, develop the national recovery plan.
…Here is what they also know: We’re at a rare moment where we’ve been given the opportunity to remake our world; a chance to seize our future. And as difficult as it sometimes is, what is inherent about the American spirit is the fact that we don’t cling to the past in this country. We always move forward. And that movement doesn’t begin in Washington — it begins with you. It happens because the American people decide it’s time to move forward; because you decide it’s time for change; because you’re willing to face the future without fear. And if you do that now, then we will not only reelect Jon Corzine so he can keep on fighting for families here in New Jersey, but we will do what earlier generations have done and build something better to leave to our children and secure our future in the 21st century.
We are counting on you. And I’m absolutely confident that the American people are going to meet the test.
Thank you, everybody. God bless you.
3:45 P.M. EDT
Here is a Whitehouse.gov-hosted page in which Obama campaigns for Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.
For Immediate Release
October 23, 2009
Remarks by the President at Governor Patrick Fundraiser General Reception
Westin Copley, Boston, Massachusetts
2:34 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Boston! (Applause.) It is good to be back in Massachusetts. (Applause.) It’s good to see some familiar faces — some folks I haven’t seen before, I’m glad about that too.
…But here’s what else was going on. I had a feeling about Deval that I’ve always had ever since I’ve known him. And as I watched him travel all across this commonwealth, listening to you, building his campaign — house by house, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood — I was reminded that Deval is competent enough to understand that this isn’t about him; it’s about you; that this was your campaign — (applause) — that you were building a movement for change that couldn’t be denied. And that core integrity of his, that generous vision of his that everybody has a part to play in rebuilding the best possible America that we can, that’s something that I felt somehow would end up being irresistible. And I’ve come back to Boston today because I need you to understand what a prize you got in Deval Patrick and why we need Deval Patrick and Tim Murray more than ever. This is the team that’s going to lead the Commonwealth of Massachusetts into the future. (Applause.)
…And so I just want to make sure you guys aren’t tired. I want to make sure you guys are energized. This is the fun part here — fighting for your future. (Applause.) I want everybody on the battlefield. I want you knocking on doors. I want you to make phone calls. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Our finish — business is unfinished. But if you all are working hard, we’re going to reelect the Patrick/Murray team and all of you are going to be proud about what happens in this commonwealth. (Applause.)
Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America. (Applause.)
This page contains material that supports Martha Coakley and attacks her Republican opponent.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think one of the reasons the President accepted the invitation of the Coakley campaign to go — I think the President sees a pretty clear distinction between a candidate in Martha Coakley who’s going to fight for Massachusetts and a candidate on the other side who feels comfortable fighting for the insurance industry and big banks.
Again, it would certainly be acceptable for Obama or one of his people to make this kind of statement at a Coakley for Senate rally that was paid for with non-tax-deductible contributions, but we question whether it should appear on a Web site that is paid for by the U.S. Government. We encourage our readers to download these Web pages so they don’t get “disappeared,” and for attorneys to weigh in on whether this is a problem.
Next we come to the issue of using a U.S. Government Web site to link to a partisan Web site such as the Democratic National Committee or Organizing for America.
MR. STEWART: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk to all of us, your supporters, about this critical issue. I would just like to add, for folks who are interested, either watching this at home or at work, you can sign up to participate — (laughter) — or host a health care event right now by entering your zip code. And for folks who are listening on the phone, please go to BarackObama.com and sign up to participate or host an event near you.