CEOs Invited to White House for Lunch, Charged Them

While not that big a deal, this would seem to take the “appearance of impropriety” thing a mite far:

Four of the most powerful business leaders in America arrived at the White House one day last month for lunch with President Barack Obama, sitting down in his private dining room just steps from the Oval Office. But even for powerful CEOs, there’s no such thing as a free lunch: White House staffers collected credit card numbers for each executive and carefully billed them for the cost of the meal with the president.

The White House defended the unusual move as a way to avoid conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration didn’t charge presidential guests for meals, one former official said, and at least one etiquette expert found the whole thing unseemly — suggesting it was a serious breach of protocol.

“I’m sure they have their political reasons for doing that, but I think it’s not what quote, hospitality, unquote is all about,” said Letitia Baldrige, who headed Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House staff in the early 1960s. “We’ve got to relax about this. To have people to the White House and worry about the price of things is laughable.” “I don’t know what the menu was, but I’m sure it wasn’t braised pheasant,” she said.

The White House did not say what was served for lunch or how much the attendees were charged. A spokeswoman said White House staff collected the credit card numbers separately from the event.

Around the table with Barack Obama that afternoon were Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox Corporation; Muhtar Kent, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company; AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson; and Honeywell International CEO Dave Cote.

“From time to time, White House guests are asked to reimburse for their meals, the reasons include ensuring there is no conflict or appearance of a conflict,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “That is consistent with our tough ethics rules and we will continue the practice when appropriate.”

The former senior Bush administration official said meals with the president were covered by official entertainment expenses that fall under the Executive Residence budget or the White House’s annual account. But the Bush administration was so sensitive about appearing cozy with corporate America that another former high-ranking official cannot recall a single instance of President Bush lunching with CEOs in the White House.

No word on whether Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley were asked to chip in on their beers.

Photo by Flickr user blakeemrys under Creative Commons license.

FILED UNDER: General, , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. markm says:

    No word on whether Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley were asked to chip in on their beers.

    It was reported earlier that the waiter was overheard saying “I’ll fly if you buy”. So that’s that.

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    What they don’t take I.O.U.’s or carbon credits????

  3. Furhead says:

    To have people to the White House and worry about the price of things is laughable.

    Is it?

    A spokeswoman said White House staff collected the credit card numbers separately from the event.

    Hopefully they keep them on file so they can pay for my healthcare!

  4. just me says:

    Well I am on the list that things this is kind of tacky.

    Inviting anyone to your house for lunch-even corporate CEO’s is inviting them to be guests in your home. I think it is tack as hell to charge guests for their food.

    If Obama is worried about appearances, then perhaps inviting them to lunch wasn’t the best choice, and just having a regular old meeting would have been most appropriate.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Conservatives are always going on about cutting spending, reducing inefficiencies and all that, but as soon as it hits wealthy CEOs in the pocketbook, they start getting offended. Typical.

    Ok, this was really tacky, but am I the only one hoping they were served tuna fish sandwiches and charged $6 a piece?

  6. Wayne says:

    Next they will be charging our allies when they are invited. How much will end up in Obama’s reelection coffers will be unknown. It would be tacky if I invited the President to a barbecue then charge him. Tacky is tacky regardless of who you do it to.

    At least for once there are some liberals that admit it was tacky.

  7. mpw280 says:

    I hope they tipped the waiters.
    mpw

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    What in the Great Blueberry lipped Hell was Obama thinking…..

    Giving Joe Biden Beer?

  9. just me says:

    Ok, this was really tacky, but am I the only one hoping they were served tuna fish sandwiches and charged $6 a piece?

    I do confess to wondering what was on the menu and how much they charged.

  10. Franklin says:

    What in the Great Blueberry lipped Hell was Obama thinking…..

    Giving Joe Biden Beer?

    It was non-alcoholic.

    Regardless, it must have tasted better than the Bud Light that Obama was drinking.

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    Regardless, it must have tasted better than the Bud Light that Obama was drinking.

    lol…….

  12. Ryan says:

    No word on whether Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley were asked to chip in on their beers.

    I fail to see where the conflict of interest arises in this situation. It certainly does not appear as if either Gates or Crowley is in a position to funnel thousands upon thousands of dollars into Obama’s war chest, nor able to offer administration staffers lucrative lobbying positions in the private sector. Perhaps that is the difference.

  13. James Joyner says:

    It certainly does not appear as if either Gates or Crowley is in a position to funnel thousands upon thousands of dollars into Obama’s war chest, nor able to offer administration staffers lucrative lobbying positions in the private sector. Perhaps that is the difference.

    Fair enough. But the CEOs got to meet with the president to help shape policy in their area. I’m not sure a free lunch would have created any additional incentive. “I was on the edge as to whether to start up a pro-Obama 527 but, man, those were some good pork chops!”

  14. Ryan says:

    James,

    When we’re talking about CEOs who oftentimes earn extravagant salaries, the same argument might hold if the president were to present them with a complementary Bentley at the door. “I was on the edge of outsourcing 50,000 jobs but damn, I’ve been wanting some 20″ rims”. The point is to avoid a conflict of interest by granting access and amenities to one faction and not to all others. I don’t apologize if it seems poor manners to some that the taxpayer won’t pick up the check for a group that is lobbying the president on policy that stands to gain them thousands, millions, or billions.

  15. RYAN FAILS says:

    James,

    When we’re talking about CEO’s who oftentimes earn extravagant salaries, the same argument might hold if the president were to present them with a complementary Bentley at the door. “I was on the edge of outsourcing 50,000 jobs but damn, I’ve been wanting some 20″ rims”. The point is to avoid a conflict of interest by granting access and amenities to one faction and not to all others. I don’t apologize if it seems poor manners to some that the taxpayer won’t pick up the check for a group that is lobbying the president on policy that stands to gain them thousands, millions, or billions.

    YOU DO UNDERSTAND HE HAS FOOTED THE BILL FOR MANY OTHERS THAT WOULD SEEM FAR MORE OF A CONFLICT OF INTEREST THEN THIS WOULD???? ALSO IT MAKES NO SENSE TO PLAY GAMES ACTING LIKE HE CARES WHEN HE JETS OFF TO A NIGHT OUT ON THE TOWN,THEN JETS OFF TO BE ON DAVID LETTERMAN, THE JETS OFF TO BE ON GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW,JETS OFF TO A WEEK VACATION AT A $20 MILLION DOLLAR BUNGALOW,JETS OFF OH I THINK BY NOW YOU GET IDEA OF THE HYPOCRITICAL WASTE AND THE CARBON FOOTPRINT HE HAS FOR JUST DOING FUN STUFF WITH HIS CELEBRITY FRIENDS AND ALL. DID HE PAY THESE BILLS OUT OF HIS OWN POCKET OR HAVE THE CELEBRITIES PAY FOR THE JET RIDE? EHH I DON’T THINK SO. BUT GO AHEAD EXCUSE EVERYTHING THE PRICK DOES.