DECEMBER 19, 2014
It has become a tiresome, tedious – and costly – routine. Hollywood calls with a passel of cash, and President Obama comes running – at great expense to taxpayers – to fill up his political coffers. That’s what we discovered anew after obtaining records from the U.S. Department of the Air Force highlighting yet another Obama fundraising trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. These documents came to us in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on October 20, 2014. Instead of advancing the nation’s interests and keeping the public trust, the president is instead, once again, using taxpayer money to subsidize lavish political junkets.
On October 9, Obama attended a ritzy fundraiser hosted by Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow in Los Angeles. Obama also attended “a $15,000-per person ‘roundtable’ discussion fundraiser for the DNC on Friday morning at the home of restaurateur Michael Chow and his wife Eva, a fashion designer.”
Then he went to San Francisco for two more fundraisers, including one at a “private home.” The AP reported that “the event, his fourth California fundraiser in three days, is closed to media coverage.”
According to the newly released records JW obtained, transportation for Obama to Los Angeles, California, on October 9, 2014, for the Paltrow fundraiser cost taxpayers $1,011,051.30. Transportation for Obama to San Francisco, California on October 10, 2014, fundraiser cost taxpayers an additional $165,069.60.
Obama’s fundraiser at the home of Paltrow marked his thirtieth Los Angeles fundraiser since he took office – though his July fundraiser at the home of Michael Rapino had been billed as “the last trip to Los Angeles the president will be making this year,” according to KCAL TV. With the threat of a Republican sweep of Senate seats, however, Hollywood again opened its coffers in another attempt to raise money for the Democratic National Committee a month out from mid-term elections. The fundraiser at the home of A-list actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who also held a fundraising event for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, came with a price tag of up to $32,400 per attendee.
While Obama benefits financially from the allure of Hollywood, some of the comments made by his host proved to be more than a little embarrassing. Paltrow showed an apparent disregard (or perhaps lack of understanding) for the constitutional separation of powers when at one point she gushed, “It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man all of the power that he needs to pass the things that he needs to pass.” Even the editors at TMZ, a popular celebrity gossip news site, gave Paltrow and Obama a harsh tongue-lashing for that comment. “It’s the latest example of how demeaning it has become for Presidents to act like circus animals – performing for crowds that will feed them…” TMZ editors concluded, “…the celebrity circus has sullied the Presidency of the United States.”
On October 10, Obama took time out from his fundraising schedule to declare the Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park part of the San Gabriel Mountains in San Dimas as a national monument via executive order, bypassing the constitutional authority of Congress to declare a national park – and making it more difficult to protect our border.
Even as Obama postures as a champion of average Americans, he continues to run up excessive tabs for taxpayer-funded political junkets. Over the Labor Day Weekend, for example, Obama ran up a total of $1,539,402.10 in taxpayer-paid transportation expenses.
The trip began in Westchester, New York, on Friday, August 29. While in New York, Obama attended two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee, one of them a BBQ at the home of millionaire and former UBS CEO Robert Wolf. Obama later that day took off for Providence, Rhode Island, for a fundraiser at the plush private residence of former Nortek CEO Richard Bready and Betty Easton, where tickets cost up to $32, 400. Although the president was initially scheduled to fly back to Westchester, New York, that Friday night, and then return to D.C. after attending the Saturday wedding of White House chef Sam Kass to MSNBC host Alex Wagner, he made some very costly last minute changes. Instead, according to White House press secretary Josh Ernst, Obama flew back to Washington on Friday to “sleep in his own bed, do a little work… spend time with his family ….” Then he flew back to New York on Saturday – at a cost total of $295,227.80 more in taxpayer-paid flight expenses. And that is nearly six times what the average American makes in a year – an amount which, critics would argue not so coincidentally, has actually fallen 8% since Obama became president.
Taxpayers are being gouged by President Obama for unnecessary travel for political fundraising and vacations. There needs to be a reconsideration of the longstanding taxpayer subsidy that forces our nation’s military and Secret Service into the service of political parties and candidates. Prior presidents – Republican and Democrat – also made 30 plus trips on Air Force One for fundraising activities. Reimbursement by the parties and candidates for the tremendous costs to taxpayers is ridiculously low – just relatively modest airfare and money for hotel, food. It is a scam and the actual process for billing is secret, as the AP reports, in the most transparent White House in history:
When a presidential trip includes multiple stops, some of them for political events and some for official purposes, then travel costs get divided up between the campaign and the government. But following a decades-old White House tradition, Obama aides declined to share details on how that’s done.
This is an area ripe for reform, which JW hopes its works can further. Could you imagine an easier issue to unite Democrats and Republicans than the notion of requiring politicians to more fairly reimburse our decimated Defense Department and barely functional Secret Service for those agencies precious services that turns the President of the United States into the traveling Barnum and Bailey of political fundraising?
In the meantime, President Obama will abuse his presidential perks further by going to Hawaii for a 17 day “working vacation.” JW found that one prior Christmas vacation for Obama cost you and your grandchildren – and their grandchildren – $4,086,355.20 for flights alone! Try not to think of how our country is going further into debt as you enjoy your Christmas.
Your JW is the best source for details on Air Obama. A complete rundown of First Family vacations and junkets is available here.
We are pleased to announce that Judicial Watch has joined forces with investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed jointly against the Department of Justice (DOJ). We want “any and all records” relating to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) background checks on the award-winning correspondent. The request includes correspondence between Attkisson and FBI agents.
According to documents obtained by Judicial Watch one month ago, the DOJ and the White House targeted the former CBS correspondent as a result of her investigations into the growing Operation Fast and Furious scandal. In an October 4, 2011, email to White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, Attorney General Eric Holder’s top press aide, Tracy Schmaler, described Attkisson as “out of control.” Schmaler added ominously, “I’m also calling Sharryl’s [sic] editor and reaching out to Scheiffer” (an apparent reference to CBS’ Chief Washington Correspondent and Face the Nation moderator Bob Scheiffer). Schultz responded, “Good. Her piece was really bad for the AG.”
Leaving no stone unturned, the Judicial Watch/Attkisson lawsuit specifically asks for:
“Any and all records concerned, regarding or relating to Sharyl Attkisson. Such records include, but are not limited to, records of background checks of Sharyl Attkisson, records of communications, contacts, or correspondence between Sharyl Attkisson and employees, officials or agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and records of investigations concerning or regarding Sharyl Attkisson as a victim…”
Operation Fast and Furious, you will recall, was a Justice Department/Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) “gun-running” operation in which the Obama administration allowed guns to go to Mexican drug cartels in hopes that they would end up at crime scenes, thereby advancing gun-control policies. Fast and Furious weapons have been implicated in the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and hundreds of other innocents in Mexico. Attorney General Eric Holder has already admitted that guns from the Fast and Furious scandal are expected to be used in criminal activity on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for years to come.
Attkisson, who in 2012 won both the Emmy and the Edward R. Murrow awards for investigative reporting, first began reporting on Fast and Furious in February 2011 when she broke the story, “Gunrunning scandal uncovered at the ATF.” Since then, she has filed more than 100 stories relating to the gunrunning debacle, many of which were exclusive reports. In her new book, “Stonewalled,” Attkisson reported that she had received inside information from government-related sources that the FBI, among other government agencies had hacked into both her personal and work computers over a lengthy period of time.
The Fast and Furious lawsuit we have filed jointly filed with Attkisson is not the first collaborative effort. In August 2014, we teamed with Attkisson to file a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services to obtain records pertaining to the failed roll-out of President Obama’s health care law. In May 2014, Judicial Watch released a 106-page document obtained from HHS, revealing that on its first full day of operation, Obamacare’s Healthcare.gov received only one enrollment. The document also revealed that on the second day of Healthcare.gov operation, 48% of registrations failed.
JW is proud to represent Sharyl Attkisson, a fiercely independent journalist, who has a demonstrated track-record of refusing to play the Washington media insiders’ game that covers up or covers over public corruption stories such as Fast and Furious. We know from the emails we have already obtained that the Holder Justice Department sought to silence this courageous reporter. Now, we need to find out just how far they went.
“I am pleased to once again partner with Judicial Watch, which is unmatched in terms of success in litigating Freedom of Information claims against the federal government, whether under Bush or Obama,” added Sharyl Attkisson in our press statement on the new lawsuit. “That I’ve had to sue to get my own FBI file is concerning. This administration has a terrible record in respecting the First Amendment rights of journalists.”
A QUICK FOOTNOTE: There are many added dimensions to the Fast and Furious scandal that continue to come to light thanks to JW’s efforts. We have found, for example, that based on the information uncovered through a Judicial Watch public records lawsuit against the City of Phoenix, Congress has confirmed that an AK 47 rifle used in a July 29, 2013, gang-style assault on an apartment building that left two people wounded was part of the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ) Operation Fast and Furious gunrunning program.
And just as we went to press with this Weekly Update, we released graphic crime scene photos taken at the site of the assault in Phoenix. This includes a close-up photo revealing the serial number of the AK-47 rifle used by the assailants. Stayed tuned as we will continue provide updates on this deadly Obama administration scandal.
Remember ACORN? That’s the nationwide network of community organizing groups Judicial Watch helped expose for organizing and implementing a plethora of voter fraud schemes and financial misappropriation exercises that undoubtedly helped put President Obama in office. It’s the group for which Obama once served as an attorney and to which he proudly boasted, “I’ve been fighting alongside ACORN on issues you care about my entire career.” Despite a 5-year-old congressional ban on federal funding for the notably corrupt Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and new offshoots, JW has now obtained documents that show a sizeable amount of taxpayer money went to an affiliate serving as Obamacare “Navigators.” My report to you here is based on our exclusive report that first appeared at our essential Corruption Chronicles blog.
Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) violated the ACORN funding ban by awarding a Louisiana nonprofit called Southern United Neighborhoods (SUN) a hefty $1.3 million Obamacare Navigator grant to recruit customers for the president’s disastrous healthcare law and help them sign-up for its costly and complicated insurance exchanges. Headquartered in New Orleans, SUN was founded with former ACORN members and claims on its website that it is dedicated to combating poverty, discrimination and community deterioration – all with your tax dollars, no less.
Not-so-coincidentally, the group shares its address—and government grants—with another like-minded nonprofit called United Labor Unions Council Local 100. Local 100 was established by Wade Rathke, the radical left-wing community organizer who also founded ACORN. It’s not clear in the documents obtained by JW how much of the $1.3 million HHS grant actually went to Rathke’s local, which is one of SUN’s four partner organizations. But the point remains that the group is an ACORN successor specifically proscribed by federal law from receiving taxpayer dollars. But receive these illicit monies it does – at the pleasure and for the benefit of the Obama administration.
According to an investigative report by National Review, “Local 100 is a ‘sub-grantee’ providing Navigators for the Southern United Neighborhoods group.” Other organizations profiting handsomely from the Navigator boondoggle, by the way, include the National Urban League, which was paid $376,000 for its Obamacare outreach in Texas, as well as such leftwing groups as Planned Parenthood and the Virginia Poverty Law Center Inc.
As JW has reported to you previously, serious questions have been raised about the requirements to be an Obamacare Navigator and the screening given to those who are hired. At a November 6, 2014, Senate Finance Committee hearing, former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admitted to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that the federal government conducts no background checks on Obamacare Navigators, and it was “possible” that they could be convicted criminals. Indeed, in January 2014, it was reported that as many as 43 convicted criminals were working as Obamacare navigators in California alone.
The controversial Navigator program is not the only way the Obama administration has found to funnel money to ACORN offshoots and its corrupt former officials. As we have reported in the past, the money has flowed through various federal agencies. For instance, in 2011 a JW probe found that Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded a $79,819 grant to an ACORN reincarnation called Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA) to “combat housing and lending discrimination.”
A year later a separate JW probe revealed that the Obama administration gave an ACORN director named Joe McGavin nearly half a billion dollars to offer “struggling” Illinois homeowners mortgage assistance. McGavin was director of counseling for ACORN Housing in Chicago and operations manager for a Chicago ACORN offshoot called Affordable Housing Centers of America (AHCOA) shortly before getting the money. (Details of how ACORN offshoots and officials are continuing to soak up taxpayer money are available in the special JW report, “The Rebranding of ACORN”). We also have a slew of ACORN news here.
Remember, all of this occurred after Congress was forced to pass a law (Defund ACORN Act) in 2009 to stop the huge flow of taxpayer money that annually filled the corrupt organization’s coffers. The Obama administration chose to do an end run around that law. And it continues to do so today.
The recent “Crominbus” bill that funds HHS and the departments of Labor and Education once again contains specific language restricting any money from going to ACORN. “None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors,” the bill says. But, there is no reason to believe the Obama administration will abide by that law any more than they have by its predecessors. So, your JW will remain vigilant and keep you abreast of breaking developments.
Until next week …