By Andrew Steele
Obama’s Internet campaign troll– whose appointment and job description as one of providing “aggressive defense of the president and his policies” was reported last week– is off and running, and already things are rocky.
The Twitter account opened by Jesse Lee—which features an image of a Terminator robot as its first post, (apparently how Jesse Lee thinks of himself and his role)– already has a number of followers excitedly ready to do battle in the blogosphere.
“Still trying to figure out why a government employee would use the symbol of tyrannical overloads and murderers as his first post” twittered one person, commenting on the Terminator picture.
“Was a stint at Pravda a prerequisite for this job? If it doesn’t work out, Castro may be hiring” wrote another.
It’s not likely that these people, who are mostly right leaning, will get a response. Fox News has reported that the focus of Jesse Lee’s Terminator activities is going to be left-of-center blogs, which strategically makes sense because President Obama has little chance of converting rightwing blog readers and desperately needs to reignite the rabid 2008 “Hopeium” high he squandered after brazenly going back on the important promises he made to his base regarding no more war mongering, restoring civil liberties, and closing Gitmo.
Though the President of course has the right to campaign, Jesse Lee’s position is one working for the White House, not the DNC, as verified by the Washington Post’s “Who Runs Government?” webpage, which lists his employer as White House Communications Director, Daniel Pfeiffer.
This means that taxpayer money is being used to pay for his activities, which are directed at reelecting the President. Though I’m not a lawyer and can’t vouch for every single legal loophole the President might have found and slithered through, I can say that the Federal Election Commission’s website states in bold, underlined letters: Money for public funding of presidential elections can come only from the PECF. If that Fund runs short of funds, no other general Treasury funds may be used.
What’s the PECF? It’s a small amount of cash you can voluntarily give when paying your protection money….I mean federal taxes…each year which goes towards funding for presidential elections. It’s on your tax forms for you to check yes or no if you want to do it or not. If you use corporate accounting firms like H&R Block you may have heard your accountant ask you if you want to contribute to it as she typed it into the computer. According to the FEC webpage the current amount that you would pledge if you chose to do so would be three dollars.
Obama opted out of using public funds in 2008. So far I’ve found no indication in the media of whether or not he plans to use public funds in 2012 but, playing the odds, it’s unlikely.
Since I never contribute to the PECF myself, what Jesse Lee needs to answer and provide documentation to prove is whether or not his activities are being paid for with money from this fund or with my money?
Using simple logic it would seem that if Jesse Lee was being funded with taxpayer money from somewhere other than the PECF, and the FEC took the time to underline the words on their webpage stating that no other general Treasury funds may be used for a presidential election, then we have a problem.
Of course, to cover its tail the White House may try to argue that Jesse Lee’s Internet activities won’t constitute campaign work. That instead of campaigning he’s “setting the record straight” on behalf of the President, like a press secretary would.
However, press secretaries usually put out statements and answer questions from the press on behalf of the President conducting United States business. Sometimes it might get political depending on the questions asked, or the issue of the day, but press secretaries are not supposed to be used as a campaign mouthpiece or as a microphone to attack political critics or promote a political ideology. Once a person is the President of the United States he represents everybody, and can’t use tax money unless it’s for government business.
Indeed members of the President’s administration have the right to go on TV or be interviewed by magazines and give their own point of view. Yet these people, like Hillary Clinton for example, are active members of the administration with jobs that are based on representing the interests of the United States in functional matters, not solely on defending the President’s record. Jesse Lee’s official White House title– Director of Progressive Media & Online Response—clearly shows that his position is one conducting political business, not government business. Progressive, after all, is a political ideology, like conservative, anarchist, or communist.
For those who haven’t yet worked enough of the “Hopeium” out of their system from 2008 to understand this, let’s say hypothetically that a Libertarian became President and hired me with your money as his White House Director of Libertarian Media & Online Response, carrying out the same kind of activities that Jesse Lee is going to be doing. Around reelection time I would be collecting your money and trolling the Internet, either going after you on your blogs or (closer to Jesse Lee’s situation) going after libertarians calling the President a hypocrite for using taxpayer money in such a fashion (which in this scenario it would be hypocritical if a libertarian president did such a thing).
A simple change of Jesse Lee’s title wouldn’t erase the fact that it’s part of a political campaign. The White House has already shown the true nature of the job in the title Jesse Lee now has.
Some people have asserted that the President has a right use the “bully pulpit” to promote his views and because of that Jesse Lee’s position at taxpayer expense (outside the PECF) would be justified, However, the “bully pulpit” is just an expression meaning that the President, having an influential position, has the ability to bring attention to certain issues himself by talking about them while in the public eye. It’s not an official power listed in the Constitution and certainly doesn’t give the President the right use public funds to pay for an official propagandist.
Now let’s look at the job itself.
Jesse Lee’s new position is to go on the Internet and do battle with the President’s political detractors. It’s much like a campaign volunteer interrupting a rival’s rally or speech, which in the wild west of the blogosphere is of course part of the game, but again– it’s political. Unless the money to pay Lee comes from the PECF, then essentially Obama is aiming the loaded gun of federal tax power at people who speak out against his policies, taking their money to use against them for political gain.
Not to mention the fact that Lee’s position wasn’t created until the election season started and after a number of Republican candidates had already announced that they were running. To say that the President is not running for office right now and that Lee’s new job has nothing to do with the election would be absurd.
Jesse Lee’s job is absolutely political, absolutely being done as part of the President’s reelection push, and absolutely something I, and countless others, don’t want to pay for. The fact that donating to the PECF is voluntary proves that Obama can’t just use taxpayer money for his own reelection activities without following clearly stated rules, (like the one underlined on the FEC’s webpage) no matter how noble he thinks his policies are and how much he thinks America will benefit from another four years of seeing his face on TV.
It’s not a new insight that Obama and many of his supporters operate under the philosophy that because the man won an election (in a race tightly controlled by a media highlighting only a selected few points of view), that the President and the once Democratic Congress somehow received a mandate to impose their will on every American, regardless of their constitutional limitations. A good example of this is the mandate that U.S. citizens must purchase health insurance, which is unlike auto or home insurance, or the income tax because theoretically it’s possible to live your life without driving a car, owning a house, or having a job. With the mandate a person is forced to buy a product against his or her own will and is unable to avoid it. This wildly unconstitutional law was born from a mentality of mob rule and a form of governance that the founders wisely hindered when establishing our constitutional republic, the basic rules of which don’t change just because some guy won an election. The President doesn’t have the right to use taxpayer money (with the exception of the PECF) to promote a political philosophy or himself just because voters put him in charge of the Treasury, no more than a bank president has the right to use bank money to pay a consultant to polish up his resume.
If Jesse Lee wants to fight the attacks, then he needs to start with this one and address this troubling question of funding. Not just Jesse, but the FEC too. Again, I have seen no indication that Obama has taken PECF funds for his 2012 campaign.
In case Jesse has missed this article, please share it with him at his Twitter page, and also “follow” him on it so you can ask these questions yourself.
You can find it by CLICKING HERE.
UPDATE: 6/2/11– The FEC has verified to me that Obama has not accepted public funds yet for the 2012 election. –Andrew Steele