Republicans Request Investigation Of Obama Travel

By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown
By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown

(CNN) – President Barack Obama isn't just playing politics - he may be committing fraud on the taxpayer's dime, the Republican National Committee charged on Wednesday.

In a letter to the Government Accountability Office from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, the committee requested an investigation into Obama's recent travel - including trips this week to Iowa and North Carolina - alleging those trips were more political than official.

The White House and Obama For America, the president's reelection campaign, go to great lengths to distinguish between official and campaign activities, as do elected officials and their reelection efforts at various levels of government.

But Obama's recent speeches, the RNC said in the letter, were "events widely reported to be equivalent to campaign rallies." The committee's case sees supporting evidence in a list of the states Obama has visited this month, including the general election battlegrounds of Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio.

It's a blurry line, to some extent.

"This speech was high on class warfare, slogans, and divisive campaign-style rhetoric," the letter said of a recent official event earlier this month in Florida.

When candidates travel by government means - such as a president traveling by Air Force One to a campaign event - Federal Election Commission regulations require the campaign to reimburse the government at a market rate. Typically, this means campaigns pay the cost of first-class airfare for the candidate and any campaign staffers. Travel by Air Force One - which costs over $180,000 per hour - is much more expensive than the price tag for commercial seats.

Such scheduling allows "his reelection campaign to save on fuel for Air Force One," the letter said. The government picks up an even greater share of the total tab for a trip combining both campaign and official events.

Responding to the letter, White House Spokesman Eric Schultz maintained the president's travel was part of his "official responsibility" to leave Washington and hear from citizens about major issues.

“This week’s travel has been part of the President’s official responsibility to get outside of Washington, DC, hear from students, and discuss stopping interest rates on their loans from doubling in July – just like Friday’s trip to Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia to meet with troops, veterans, and military families is likewise part of the President’s official responsibilities. When there is political travel, we follow all rules and regulations that all other Administrations have followed," Schultz said in the statement.

Also weighing in, the Obama campaign manager told reporters Wednesday that the campaign would follow campaign finance rules.

"As in other administrations, we'll follow all of the rules and regulations to ensure that the committee pays for whatever is required for the president and the first lady to travel to political events," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters Wednesday. "These are very specific rules that are similar to what Bush and Clinton and other presidents have had to do, and they're very clear and we will abide by all of those in our usual way."

While Democrats may see the RNC's letter as spin - this president is far from the first to take his official agenda on the road - and Air Force One as an advantage for the president, Republicans may see the opposite spin in the pushback from another Obama reelection official.

"There's no doubt that Governor (Mitt) Romney has an advantage," campaign senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters, referencing the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. "He hasn't had a job in six years, and he famously jokes that he's unemployed, but he's been running for president for six solid years. And he's got every day, 24 hours a day to run for president. Now we don't have that. We don't have that advantage."

– CNN White House Correspondent Dan Lothian contributed to this report.

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