Thursday, December 15, 2011

The White House gives me a four-month runaround re: whether President Obama was "close" to tainted IL charity

This a belated follow-up to my July item, Was Senator Barack Obama "close" to a Chicago nonprofit that's now under state & federal investigations? I've asked the White House.

The idea was to try and verify a thin claim published by the Save-A-Life Foundation (SALF) and by the Huffington Post that, when he served as an IL state senator and as a member of the US Senate, President Obama was a supporter of SALF.

As Sidebar readers know, SALF was a high-flying, politically-connected Chicago-area nonprofit whose wings got clipped in November 2006, when ABC Chicago aired the first of four exposes by I-Team reporter Chuck Goudie. Since then, SALF has been the subject of dozens more critical media reports.

Per The Hill and other news outlets, SALF is being investigated by the IL Attorney General. Per my blog, an executive at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who moonlighted as SALF's Corporate Treasurer is under review by the CDC - and my congressman, Rob Woodall, is asking questions. There's about $9 million in IL state and federal dollars that may have gone bye-bye

Better yet, there's plenty of sordid human drama centering around SALF's founder/president, Carol J. Spizzirri, a special friend to plenty of politicos and, from the looks of this photo, a dear friend of my parents.

SALF's Carol J. Spizzirri, my father & my mother (sitting)

Back to President Obama, to my knowledge, here's the only published document that mentions him, a 2006 SALF press release:

Like I said, that's wafer-thin evidence, but I figured I'd toss a couple softball questions at the White House and see what happened. Even a denial would give me a cheap headline, à la:
"White House denies claims that President was 'close' to tainted nonprofit"
Truth be told, I assumed I'd simply be ignored. In hindsight, I think I'd have preferred that. 

White House Deputy Press Secretaries Jamie Smith and Josh Earnest (source:

Per the correspondence posted below, White House Deputy Press Secretary Jamie Smith wasted hours of my time - and hers - by leading me on a four-month wild goose chase of endless back & forth e-mails. 

Her challenge? To field this pair of slow-motion grounders I tossed at her:
1) Per a Huffington Post article, is it accurate to say that "Barack Obama was close to the Save-A-Life Foundation"? If not, please explain.
2) According to a February 27, 2006 press release:

Save A Life Foundation (SALF) President and Founder Carol Spizzirri recently spoke with U.S. Senator Barack Obama...regarding SALF’s future lifesaving efforts....While in the Illinois legislature together, Obama and current Illinois Senate President Emil Jones were always supportive of SALF’s efforts to train Illinois schoolchildren in life-sustaining skills for free.
Are any parts of the above sentences inaccurate? If so, please explain.
It started off great. White House Deputy Press Secretary Smith promptly agreed to answer my questions.

Cheap headline, here I come!

For the next couple of months, I politely sent follow-up nudges and she promptly sent follow-up replies assuring me that she was working on getting my answers. (Look, I'm aware that I'm a cloutless blogger so I was willing to be patient.)

Then she pulled this 180:
I regret to inform you that we will not be able to accommodate your request.
WTF? Did a White House Deputy Press Secretary just broke what I consider to be Rule Three for every media rep?
Don't make promises you can't keep. 
Based on this memo from her boss Jay Carney (via Lynn Sweet's Chicago Sun-Times column), I'd assumed I was dealing with a pro:
Jamie Smith will join the White House Communications team as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary. In addition to serving as an on-the-record spokesperson for the White House, she will manage the day-to-day operations of our office. An experienced and well-regarded manager and communicator, Jamie is currently Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Before that, she was Communications Director for U.S. Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV when he was Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and then Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Smith also served as Traveling Press Director for the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign, Communications Director for former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and The Albright Group, and Legislative Aide to Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey.
Those sounded like high-class gigs and quite a few for such a young woman to have held, so I kept my cool and played this hand:
On my blog this week, I intend to report this (more or less) as "White House refuses to answer questions about President Obama's past ties to tainted Illinois nonprofit under federal and state investigations."

If you wish to dispute that characterization, would you please get back to me by the end of today?
Less than an hour later, to my surprise, she put the ball back in play!
Thanks for your reply back. If you can give me a few more days on this, I would appreciate it.
Will respond by week's end.
But those assurances led to - yeah, you guessed it - another two months of phony promises, a family sob story, and then White House Deputy Press Secretary Smith vanished.

I think I know why she's held so many jobs.

But just as bad as wasting my time, she broke Rule Two:
Protect the boss.
That is, now, thanks to her - along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin - that makes three prominent Democrats from Illinois who appear to hiding from questions about their relationships with SALF.

Which in my book constitutes a clear cut violation of Rule One:
Get in front of the problem.
Especially with election season just 'round the bend.