Romney Bans Press From Private Fundraiser; Press Upset

The Romney campaign has hurt the press corps' feelings.

The Romney campaign has hurt the press corps’ feelings.

WaPo (“Romney bans media from Jerusalem fundraiser, violating pre-established protocol“):

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who touched down here Saturday night for a day of meetings with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, plans to wrap up his visit to Israel by collecting money from some of his biggest benefactors behind closed doors.

Some of Romney’s Jewish donors are flying here from the United States to attend the Jerusalem fundraiser on Monday morning, including Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to personally give tens of millions of dollars to a pro-Romney super PAC.

But Romney’s campaign announced Saturday that it would block the news media from covering the event, which will be held at the King David Hotel. The campaign’s decision to close the fundraiser to the press violates the ground rules it negotiated with news organizations in April, when Romney wrapped up the Republican nomination and began opening some of his finance events to the news media.

Under the agreement, a pool of wire, print and television reporters can cover every Romney fundraiser held in public venues, including hotels and country clubs. The campaign does not allow media coverage of fundraisers held in private residences.

Maybe the campaign understood that to mean “public venues in the United States.” Maybe Romney isn’t giving a speech Monday and therefore didn’t think it was a press event. Maybe Sheldon Adelson said he wasn’t coming if he had to deal with the press. Who knows?

The NYT’s Ashley Parker (“A Fund-Raiser Behind Closed Doors“) speculates,

The fund-raiser may be especially delicate for Mr. Romney because of the attendance of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate who has pledged to spend some $100 million this election to help defeat President Obama, as well as elect Republicans. Though Mr. Adelson first supported Newt Gingrich during the early nominating contests because of his strong support for Israel, he has since thrown his support behind Mr. Romney.

Given that it’s common knowledge that Adelson is a huge Romney donor and that it’s hardly shocking that someone who supported one Republican contender during the primaries is now backing the Republican nominee in an effort to oust the incumbent Democratic president, it strikes me as much more likely that it’s “especially delicate” for Adelson rather than Romney. But, again, who cares?

Well, obviously, the press. WaPo’s Phillip Rucker:

Romney has a history of delivering different messages to his donors when reporters are not present to hear them. At a closed-press fundraiser in Florida this spring, reporters from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, without Romney’s knowledge, overheard the candidate outline new tax policy proposals and suggest that he might dramatically downsize the Department of Education and eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Parker, coincidentally, recalls the exact same incident:

It remains unclear why Mr. Romney wants his remarks to donors in Israel to remain off the record. But earlier in the campaign, Mr. Romney was caught offering a slightly different message behind closed doors than was intended for public consumption. At a private fund-raiser in Florida, Mr. Romney talked about reducing the Department of Education and possibly eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development — hardly standard campaign fare.

So, this “history” consists of one incident in which Romney, not knowing the press was in the room, cribbed a stump speech line every Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan has used? (Previous ones might have used it too, except that Jimmy Carter split the old Housing, Education, and Welfare department into two agencies.) Shocking!

Look, I roll my eyes every time I hear that red meat line in speeches to conservative audiences. I can’t for the life of me figure out what the appeal is 30-odd years in; it’s apparently Pavlovian. Regardless, Reagan had eight years, Bush Sr. had four, and Bush Jr. had another eight–twenty years in all–to shutter the Department of Education. So far as I’m aware, not only is it still around but they didn’t even float a perfunctory bill to try to close it. Whether they actually wanted it closed, it clearly wasn’t near the top of the agenda.

As to fundraisers, while I get why the press would want to attend them and report what’s going on, it’s really a bizarre notion. They’re private events that happen to feature a prominent public figure. The big donors, who typically aren’t public figures, typically don’t want to be grilled by the press while they’re enjoying what, to them, is just a big party where they get to rub elbows with the candidate, politicos, and other fat cats.  So, we usually wind up with awkward situations wherein the press is sequestered away during the social part of the evening and allowed to attend the candidate’s speech. Or, reporters are required to surrender their cell phones, so they can’t record anything embarrassing. It’s a rather silly exercise.

As to Romney, well, this is yet another example of hamhandedness on the part of his campaign. This overseas trip, which was presumably supposed to get him above the fray of the day-to-day campaign and somehow bolster his foreign policy chops, has been rather embarrassing. And, while I don’t care in the slightest that he’s closing a private fundraiser to the press, the campaign should at least have offered some sort of plausible rationale rather than simply declaring it and annoying the press.

While he’s been an effective leader and manager as a CEO, Olympic chairman, and governor, he’s just not a natural politician. That’s a problem for someone who happens to be a major party nominee for president, especially one trying to unseat a guy who’s a natural on the stump. With just a little more than three months to go until Election Day, Romney’s going to need to up his game and quickly.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Media, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Murray says:

    Rather than be upset about being banned shouldn’t they be questioning the principle of fundraisers abroad?

    I know it is claimed that it is Americans living abroad who contribute, but I still find it odd to say the least.

  2. Markey says:

    Mitt Romney.. Who really likes him?

    I know plenty of Obama hater republicans who will vote for Gov Romney(“Anybody but Obama!” they screamed) but they got no “luv” for the man himself.


  3. sam says:

    I suspect, since Shelly was involved, Rombo went on and on and about how he was going to subject Iran to harsh language and stuff. And if Iran didn’t get that message, Rombo was gonna darn well going to show those turbaned motherfeathers just how long his righteous sword of anger is. And stuff.

    Oh, and before the speech, Rombo assured Shelly that if he’s elected, the DOJ will cease looking into Adelson’s Macao adventures.

  4. al-Ameda says:

    He doesn’t want the press there to record him saying something like, “By the way, President Obama hates Israel, ” or “you do know of course that his middle name is Hussein?”

  5. JKB says:

    Breaking: Obama’s public relations people upset at being banned from Romney fundraiser.

    It’s interesting as this event probably wouldn’t even rate a mention to the most ardent political junkies without this violation of protocol. Hardly news with the Olympics going on.

    But now the “press” is making hay with remembrances of times past and all.

    Not a bad diversion attempt from the Obama “you didn’t build that” and the local Democrat politicians , you can’t build that until you get the right opinions. Seems we’re up to no one is successful without government provide roads, police and fire but they must also have government approved opinions.

  6. rudderpedals says:

    The Evil American world tour is not helpful. For the nation’s sake and to avoid further embarrassment the press should be kept well away from Mr. Romney while overseas.

  7. Arm The Homeless says:

    @JKB: I don’t know if you get paid for your opinions here, but if your aren’t, you should be.

    “But now the “press” is making hay with remembrances of times past and all.”

    Do you have a problem with the use of long-term memory by journalists, in general, or specifically when they are picking on your bubala?

    Let me guess: You’re not a Republican, you’ve always been registered Independent, and you voted for Clinton, then the Democrat party left you.

  8. I agree that this is a pretty trivial complaint. The press were in a #romneyshambles feeding frenzy (market and headline seeking for the real press, but with gleeful Obama-loving remoras hanging on). They wanted in to “feed the narrative” with this fundraiser and not in a good way for Romney.

    You know, I joked in another thread that Romney’s crew had too much invested in editing fake Obama videos to really plan for the trip. Amazingly:

    When Barack Obama traveled overseas as a candidate in 2008, it was an all-hands-on-deck event, with senior advisers David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs and a full battery of foreign-policy bigwigs — including Dennis Ross, Susan Rice, James Steinberg and Richard Danzig — at his side.

    By contrast, Romney’s top political advisers stayed home, though chief strategist Stuart Stevens flew to London to join the entourage Friday. The only senior communications aide on the ground to help Romney navigate the public-relations controversy that erupted following the Olympics readiness comments he made Wednesday to NBC News was press secretary Andrea Saul.

    It appeared the campaign had concerns other than the trip. On Thursday, the Romney media office e-mailed reporters 16 videos, statements, research documents or surrogate event announcements pushing Romney’s economic message, but it sent nothing pertaining to his foreign trip.

    There it is, from the lack of preparation right down to the video (editing).

  9. JKB says:

    @Arm The Homeless: Do you have a problem with the use of long-term memory by journalists, in general, or specifically when they are picking on your bubala?

    I’ve no problem with the “press” using their memory. I have a problem with their selective amnesia.

    I seem to remember another candidate who spoke to supporters differently when the press wasn’t around. Something about “bitter clingers”. Oh, and let’s not forget the “off-mic” comments to the president of Russia indicating he’d be in a better position to sell out America after the election.

    Now, did you have some rebuttal to my comment or did you just wish to chatter on about my supposed political beliefs in hope of what? exactly?

  10. To complete the thought from above, the Romney staff thought he could run the European trip with a small crew while they drove the “you didn’t build that” narrative.

    In some cruel politics, while a few articles talking about how well “you didn’t build that” worked for Romney tried to fight up-stream, the narrative was totally lost by the badly run trip.

  11. @JKB:

    Oh, and let’s not forget the “off-mic” comments to the president of Russia indicating he’d be in a better position to sell out America after the election.

    I haven’t forgotten it. We all heard it.

    It’s not our, or the presses, fault that it didn’t become a strong or enduring narrative.

    For right or wrong, most people didn’t see much “there.”

  12. Arm The Homeless says:

    “I seem to remember another candidate who spoke to supporters differently when the press wasn’t around. Something about “bitter clingers”.”

    So were you against those comments being reported-on, or just when it happens to a conservative?

    I also seem to remember a lot of comments from a certain 2008 candidate that were reported, breathlessly, by a piqued media. That guy also became POTUS. So, should we have lower expectations from Mittens?

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Hell, if you think the likes of the NYT and WaPo already are in full retard mode just wait until October. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    As far as Team Romney goes, I don’t think they’re all too concerned about his lack of pure political skills. When you’re running against an incumbent in this sort of economy the primary issue is whether you have positive EEG readings. For all his many faults I don’t think Romney quite falls into the catatonia category, at least not yet, which might be all that’s necessary for him.

    Concerning politics in July, it’s sort of like discussing whether a tree in an empty forest makes noise when it falls. The larger voting public is busy with summer stuff, watching the Olympics, or they’re desperately searching for gainful employment and for ways to make ends meet. They won’t start paying careful attention until after the conventions. Political junkies already are priced into the outcome. In other words, barring a bimbo eruption, there’s almost literally nothing Romney could do or say right now that materially would affect his chances in the general election.

  14. @Tsar Nicholas:

    I don’t think it is “political” skills which tell you to staff-up with foreign policy and protocol people before you go overseas. That just requires a basic understanding of how the world works. You want someone at your elbow to help you remember names and to remind you that the first rule of MI6 is that there is no MI6.

  15. Arm The Homeless says:

    “In other words, barring a bimbo eruption, there’s almost literally nothing Romney could do or say right now that materially would affect his chances in the general election.”

    I always appreciate your comments TN, you keep it interesting around here. But, it’s a bit insulting to claim that defining the candidate before a convention is a wash. Tainting Bain, his prancing-pony business, and highlighting the fact that the guy has more international tax-havens than common-sense, is a no-brainer.

    2008 was a battle between youthful energy and ‘me next-ism’ in the Dems’ camp. in 2012 the Repubs decided they would try that in reverse. This was expected. Hell, most of the Dems’ campaign strategy was just a replay of the primaries. It’s not like Mittens hasn’t had ample time to hone his message.

    Do you think it’s a good strategy to work these bugs out in July of an election year, when he has had 6 years of running for the position to polish those burrs?

  16. Scott says:

    I don’t know if this thought goes through the minds of the press corps but in reality, news is a business and if the various newspapers,etc are spending money to send people to follow a campaign, then they want a return on their investment. If Romney continues to do things like this, then maybe he will end up with no press coverage which may be worse than bad press coverage.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    It’s the Mitt-ness Protection Program. Hahahaha

    It against protocol to bash the President on foreign soil. Romney doesn’t have a different policy from Obama to promote…so he’s left with bashing him. Best done in the dark…sunlight is a disenfectant.

    Bottom line: Romney violates an agreement. Doug doubles down on his Romney-love.

  18. C. Clavin says:

    Damn…missed the by-line.
    My bad.

    OTB doubles down on the Romney-love.

  19. steve says:

    As noted above, IIRC, Obama’s comments about guns and clinging was at a fundraiser. I would prefer things to be as open as possible. Particularly in Romney’s case, as I have no clear idea what he really believes, I would like to know what he is telling people in private. But, I am speaking as a voter. The campaign clearly has the right to not have the press attend. Romney is free to exercise that right. In return, I think the press has every right to complain.

    James- Aren’t you just the slightest bit curious as to what he is telling those guys in private? You are a foreign policy guy, so what is he telling the big donors he is actually going to do re: Iran, Syria and the Palestinians? Does it matter?


  20. C. Clavin says:

    Maybe while R-money is in Israel he could review their universal health-care system…which of course we all help pay for…but evidently is too good for Americans…at least according to Republicans.

  21. I don’t know, is reversing better or worse?

    TEL AVIV, Israel–Mitt Romney’s campaign reversed course on a decision to meet high-dollar donors in Jerusalem behind closed doors, saying on Sunday it will allow a small pool of press to attend the Jerusalem fundraiser.

  22. Tillman says:


    If Romney continues to do things like this, then maybe he will end up with no press coverage which may be worse than bad press coverage.

    I doubt it. He might be going for this on purpose, because then his gaffes are removed from public scrutiny and all the focus is on Obama.

    @john personna: Mitt’s a flip-flopper. I figured it was fundamental by now.

  23. Arm The Homeless says:

    @john personna: Expected I would say. It’s Sunday, so it must be Etch-A-Sketch day.

    The more interesting development in my mind is the fact that Bibi apparently told Willard not to talk with the dirty Israeli commies in Labor.

    Do you enjoy Israel telling us to jump, and watching the US ask, “How High!?”

    Do you think that inclination would lessen, increase, or stay the same in a Mitten’s administration?

  24. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Of all of Romney’s gaffes on the London trip, I don’t think the MI6 one is actually a gaffe. It’s true that SIS, like our own NSA, tried to pretend it didn’t exist for years. But they’ve got their own website now, replete with the name, photograph, and a welcome video featuring Sir John Walters.

    @C. Clavin: I’m not sure how an analysis of a trivial flap and the nature of press reporting of fundraisers—one which closes with two paragraphs on how poorly Romney is handling this overseas trip—constitutes “Romney love.”

  25. legion says:

    Adelson wasn’t just “a” Gingrich supporter, he was _the_ supporter. His money ( and by the end, he practically was the only active donor) kept Newt’s campaign alive _ months_ longer than it should have gone on. There is no doubt that he is leaning heavily on Romney to leave space for Newt in a theoretical future cabinet… Imagine a US with Newt Gingrich as SecDef-or better yet, State! you know that’s what he wants most…

  26. James Joyner says:

    @steve: Sure, my preference is for every thought and utterance of the president and legitimate contenders for the office be available to the public. Or, at least, to me. At the same time, I fully understand why they would not wish to live up to that ideal and might have completely legitimate reasons for it. I think a political fundraiser is something that can legitimately be considered a private, not-on-the-record, event.

  27. DRS says:

    So if he’s raising money from Americans in these foreign countries, why can’t these patriotic Americans get on planes and fly here to attend domestic fundraisers? I mean, if the UK ticket cost of $50,000 to $70,000 is accurate (even 50% accurate) then I would think they’d have the cash for plane tickets. Maybe they can clump together and rent a private plane.

    And you seriously “can’t care less” about this kind of event, James? Maybe you need to get OTB more.

  28. @James Joyner:

    I’m neither British nor MI6, so I can’t know what expectations their side had for the meeting. I took reports like the one below, from the Guardian, to mean that they meant Romney to take his meeting and then keep quiet about it:

    For our American readership, this isn’t like bragging you just met David Petraeus. The British take on the national secret intelligence service comes with an extra-heavy dollop of the whole secret thing. The very existence of the MI6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994.

    And when MI6 was asked:

    When asked for comment, MI6 did not specifically acknowledge a meeting between Romney and Sawyers, but rather stated, “Sir John Sawers meets many people, but we don’t give a running commentary on any of these private meetings.”

    I don’t think they’d be holding the “neither confirm nor deny” line if this were as public as you imply.

    Now, did he blow MI6’s cover? Of course not. Did he violate protocol? Most likely.

  29. Me Me Me says:

    The real news of this trip is the Netanhayu is already pulling puppet Mitt’s strings:

    Much has been written about the warm personal relationship between the two friends, ex-governor Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel. Today it has become clear that the two are more than just friends. Romney apparently accepts instructions from Netanyahu who succeeded in getting him to cancel a scheduled and meticulously planned meeting with MK Shelly Yacimovich, the leader of the Labor party.

  30. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: If it’s a protocol, it’s a silly one. But I’ve learned over the years to take The Guardian and Telegraph with several grains of salt. They’re fine papers but also hype machines.

  31. James Joyner says:

    @DRS: What I don’t care about is the hurt fee-fees of the press. But, on balance, what’s said at private parties isn’t of much concern to me.

  32. anjin-san says:

    What I don’t care about is the hurt fee-fees of the press.

    Do you care what kind of people Romney chooses to surround himself with? Are they people who stick to the agreements they make (kind of an important thing for a working professional) or are they the kind of people who say “screw you, we are changing the rules”?

    I am thinking that if something like this affected your own work in a negative way, you might look at it as more than getting your “fee-fees” hurt.

  33. James Joyner says:

    @anjin-san: Journalists aren’t entitled to access to private gatherings. They’re just not.

  34. @James Joyner:

    Indeed. To argue otherwise would mean that the White House Press Corps should be entitled to have a pool reporter cover every time the Obama’s have friends over to the White House for a private dinner.

  35. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Doug, Romney isn’t “having friends over”. He has gone to a foreign country to tell people who reside there what he will do for them if they support him with enough cash to make him president.

  36. @Me Me Me:

    You are aware that all of the people from whom they are taking donations are American citizens who happen to be living abroad. Barack Obama has done the exact same thing in both this election cycle and 2008. To ensure this, campaigns require the Expats wishing to donate to provide a copy of their passport along with any donation.

    So, nice try, but swing-and-miss.

  37. anjin-san says:

    Journalists aren’t entitled to access to private gatherings.

    They are if you agree ahead of time they are.

  38. David says:

    I don’t know, what appears to be a significant fund raising event in a public venue with major US donors and probably some foreign nationals, I kind of would like to know what the potential next president of the United States is saying to them. If it was a private get together in a private home, I’d still like to know, but understand if the press is not invited. In a hotel? I don’t get it. Is he saying something he doesn’t want us poor voters to know?

  39. DRS says:

    @James Joyner:

    @DRS: What I don’t care about is the hurt fee-fees of the press. But, on balance, what’s said at private parties isn’t of much concern to me.

    I am genuinely amazed to read this. I thought you were better than this. Fundraising events are NOT private parties. Does this really have to be explained?

    And this “too kewl for skool” attitude is damned annoying whether it’s you or Doug using it.

  40. DRS says:

    Oh, looky, looky. Romney’s backtracked AGAIN; now reporters can cover the event:

  41. David says:

    @DRS: Regardless of how he got there, glad he is changing the position on allowing the press in. The initial decision to keep them out was kind of bone headed in my opinion. Better planning would have had a few smaller events in private homes and nothing more would have been said of it.

  42. James Joyner says:

    @DRS: You realize politicians, including President Obama, have private conversations with big donors constantly, right? Hell, if Romney were going to promise something nefarious to Shedon Adelson, he wouldn’t do it in a room with 200 people, he’d do it in a one-on-one.

  43. Me Me Me says:

    @James Joyner:
    Well then, what is the problem with having reporters in the room when Romney speaks to the 200?

  44. dennis says:


    More like (at the risk of being hyperbolic) they didn’t want the press recording that “N-word” free floating around. You know:

    “That *n-word* won’t invade Iran, but as soon as I’m elected, I will!”

    Personally, I don’t care how often or vitriolic they use it; just don’t start another friggin’ war…

  45. Latino_in_Boston says:

    Can someone clarify current US law on fundraising abroad?

    As I understand it, no foreigners can contribute? Only American citizens (including of course citizens with double citizenship like Adelson) can? Can you donate from abroad, though? That is, can you donate the maximum amount through the companies websites (assuming you’re a citizen)?

    If so, it seems to me this would be a tiny, tiny minority, which probably would not yield very much in terms of money. So why risk the optics at all? The campaigns are already so awash with money that this seems like a case of diminishing returns.

  46. Me Me Me says:

    Romney thought process: I want to go to London to demonstrate my Anglo-Saxon chops. I want to go to Israel to demonstrate my fealty to Bibi – voters love that! And I want to go to Poland to prove my anti-Soviet bona-fides. That bastard Obama in 2008 had enough charisma and skill to get 200,000 people to turn out to hear him make a speech in a foreign capital. Me, not so much. And since I am not yet president, I can’t call my trip to a foreign capital a diplomatic mission. So I’ll have to give it some other pretext, and fund-raiser is as good as any other.

  47. DRS says:

    Yes, James I do realize that. And in that case, as 3-M so astutely points out, why not let the press inside? Which it seems they’re going to do now, anyway. So after 48 hours of saying one thing, he’s flipping again and going to do the opposite. Resolution in leadership.

  48. @James Joyner:

    You can say protocol is silly. People agree at some level. There was a Goldie Hawn movie with that name.

    But the point of protocol is rather that you don’t decide where your hosts are “silly.” You follow the forms which do not ruffle feathers and do not offend.

    If Romney wanted an unruffled and inoffensive trip, maybe he needed a protocol person.

  49. al-Ameda says:


    Personally, I don’t care how often or vitriolic they use it; just don’t start another friggin’ war…

    Essentially, Romney is trying to tell anyone who will listen, that Obama is weak and does not stand-up for American or allied interests.

    People are not listening because Obama has demonstrated that he will use force, and that he is capable on using it cautiously to accomplish an important objective (e.g. Libya). He’s also refrained from direct action in many potentially volatile situations (Syria, N. Korea, Iran).

  50. An Interested Party says:

    Breaking: Obama’s public relations people upset at being banned from Romney fundraiser.

    It must help some sleep so much better at night to delude themselves with horse$hit like this to explain away the failures of their ideology…

  51. slimslowslider says:


    And this “too kewl for skool” attitude is damned annoying whether it’s you or Doug using it.

    Seriously. “Hurt fee fees” and “swing and miss”… come on, guys.