The White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign are denying claims that they may have violated the law by distributing a White House-generated booklet hailing the president’s record on Jewish issues at a campaign event.
The taxpayer-funded booklet, titled “President George W. Bush: A Friend of the American Jewish Community,” was published by the White House Office of Public Liaison in 2002 and updated last month. The Bush campaign distributed the booklet August 31 at a campaign event for Orthodox Jews held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City during the Republican National Convention.
“They’re not supposed to use any public resources in campaigning,” said Larry Noble, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “Having a White House publication be used for blatantly political purposes crosses the line. It may well violate the law. It would depend on the details. It’s clearly inappropriate.”
Democratic election and public ethics lawyer Joseph Sandler put it even more strongly. “It’s clearly illegal. There’s no question about that,” Sandler said. “It’s a violation of the Hatch Act, which prevents the use of U.S. public resources for campaigning.”
The Hatch Act applies to government employees, not to the campaign.
The White House has given assurances that the booklet was strictly a government outreach piece. When asked by the Forward two weeks ago to respond to Democratic allegations that the booklet was being updated for partisan purposes, White House spokeswoman Maria Tamburri insisted that it was “not a campaign document” but “part of an outreach effort.” Federal rules limit an incumbent candidate from updating official publications or using the public frank for a certain period before an election, according to election lawyers.
Told Tuesday that the campaign had given out the booklet at its event, Tamburri said: “I’m not aware of that.” Later, she added: “This is a document that catalogs the president’s achievements on issues of importance to the Jewish community. It is also part of the outreach efforts of the Office of Public Liaison. It’s a public document available to anyone who would like to have a copy.” Asked if someone could get 200 copies — the approximate number given out at the campaign event — she said, “It could be available.”
The Bush-Cheney campaign insisted that it did nothing wrong. “There’s nothing illegal or inappropriate about distributing a document that’s public,” campaign spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said, noting that the booklet is available to anyone who asks for it. “We take great pride in upholding the law in everything we do.”
One Republican lawyer, who asked not to be identified, defended the Bush campaign, saying the situation would be analogous to the Kerry campaign distributing copies of the 9/11 Commission report.
The glossy, 23-page White House booklet was distributed on chairs at the August 31 campaign event. Released with fanfare by Noam Neusner, White House liaison to the Jewish community, last month, it contains pictures of Bush meeting with Jewish communal leaders, and laudatory quotes from such communal officials, along with a pastiche of pro-Israel selections from Bush’s speeches. There is nothing in it to indicate who published it, other than a bowdlerized presidential seal — the American eagle in a ring of stars, without the legend “Seal of the President of the United States” — on the front and back cover.
The Bush-Cheney event featured speeches by a campaign aide, Tevi Troy; an official of the White House Office of Public Liaison, Tim Goeglein, and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. The Goeglein appearance also is raising eyebrows. The Washington Times reported August 24 that the White House had ordered its staffers “not to be within 50 miles of New York City during next week’s Republican National Convention — so as to avoid any appearance of ‘politicizing.’”
During his speech, Troy, who was the White House’s liaison to the Jewish community before joining the campaign, urged the crowd, mostly rabbis and communal leaders, to “use” the booklet to help motivate voters for Bush.