The Commonwealth Blog

Secret Videos and Secret Presidential Speeches

Sep 26, 2012 @ 9:16 AM

By Amelia Cass

Mitt Romney has called his disparaging remarks concerning 47 percent of Americans, at an exclusive fundraiser this spring "not elegantly stated" and “off the cuff.” He went as far as to say, “I’m sure I can state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that.” For a politician, this comes very close to admitting that he was embarrassed when, due to a leaked video, an unintended audience heard the comments he had made in a room full of financial supporters. In 2008, President Obama found himself in a similar situation after he made some generalizations about another (perhaps even overlapping) group of Americans, also not intended for the general public, at an exclusive fundraiser of his own.

According to Washington Post opinion blogger Erik Wemple, these “off the cuff” comments are one big reason donors pay “outlandish sums” to attend these types of fundraisers, held by both presidential candidates. Because of their large donations, attendees feel entitled to “a piece of the candidate, not the same sound bites they get on the Internet and television.” One of Wemple’s sources, Ari Shapiro, an NPR correspondent who has attended the parts of these fundraisers open to the press, points out that, “part of the appeal is not having a camera there.”

Though most of the recent criticism has focused on Romney's perceived cynicism about his fellow citizens, members of the media have been complaining for some time about their limited access to political fundraisers for both presidential candidates. Just under two months ago at the Club’s Week to Week discussion series, panelist Carla Marinucci, a senior political writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, said of President Obama’s many private fundraisers in the Bay Area, “There’s no press at any of these events. We don’t get to see what they discuss, and you should all be concerned about that. What does the $40,000 voter say to the president? He’s our public servant; we should know that. Romney, too, is not great about opening up his events…. This stuff should be open so all of you can hear what goes on in these fundraisers.” Wemple, too, urges both campaigns to open up their fundraisers to the press, or at least to hold their discourse to the same standards of “elegance” that they would in any public forum.

A report of Romney’s response to the leaked video on the Fox News website on Tuesday September 18, contains, without specific context, this somewhat vague paragraph): “The Romney campaign was opening up its fundraisers to cameras on Tuesday.” So perhaps Romney's unintentional exposure will lead to more transparency in at least some aspects of the fundraising for both campaigns.