Written by Tom Fitton
Just when you thought that it couldn’t get any worse, President Obama has set a new record for lavish gallivanting at taxpayer expense. Newly released travel records obtained by Judicial Watch from the U.S. Department of the Air Force reveal that on just three trips taken in 2013, the high-flying Obamas stuck the taxpayers with an astounding tab of $7,396,531.20. And that was just for flight expenses alone!
First some background. From December, 21, 2012, to January, 5, 2013, the Obama family, as is their custom, spent their Christmas vacation in Honolulu, Hawaii, with the president briefly flying back to Washington to work on a budget deal before returning to enjoy his fun in the sun. In early August, 2013, Obama flew to California to dine privately with high-dollar fundraiser DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg in the presidential suite at the Hilton Woodland Hills Hotel and to appear for the sixth time on the Jay Leno “Tonight Show.” Also in August, 2013, the Obama family spent eight days vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, at the $7.6 million home of David Schulte, founder of the private equity firm Chilmark Partners.
And what was the taxpayer tab for all of this? The records came in response to Freedom of Information lawsuit filed after the stonewalling of requests filed in August 2013:
The outbound flight to Honolulu for the Obama 2012 – 2013 Christmas vacation cost taxpayers $2, 214, 393.60. The return flight to Washington was $1,871,961.60. The total price for flight expenditures alone came to $4,086,355.20.
The outbound flight to California in August, 2013 for Obama to dine with high-dollar fundraiser Jeffrey Katzenberg and appear on the “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” cost taxpayers $1,209,926.40.The return flight to Washington was $935,980.80. The total price for flight expenditures alone came to $2,145,907.20.
The outbound flight to Martha’s Vineyard for the Obama family August vacation cost taxpayers $890,323.20. The return flight to Washington was $273,945.60. The total price for flight expenditures alone came to $1,164,268.80.
That’s $7,396,531.20 — in flight expenses alone – for just three of the Obamas’ leisure/political trips.
In recent years, Judicial Watch has repeatedly gone to court to obtain information about taxpayer funding of lavish vacations for the president and his family. In October, 2011, Judicial Watch obtained documents pertaining to the full costs of the June 21-27, 2011 trip taken by Michelle Obama, her family, and her staff to South Africa and Botswana. According to the records obtained from the United States Air Force through a FOIA lawsuit, during the six-day trip, the First Lady and her entourage spent $668.702.01, including hotel and lodging costs of $430,614.18. This was in addition to the $424,142 taxpayers were billed for the cost of the flight alone, according to earlier documents obtained by Judicial Watch.
In April, 2012, Judicial Watch obtained documents through a FOIA lawsuit from the United States Air Force and the United States Secret Service detailing costs associated with what the press described as Michelle Obama’s “whirlwind tour on Spain” in August, 2010. According to a Judicial Watch analysis, the trip, which included visits to coastal towns, shopping and a lunch date with the country’s King and Queen, cost the taxpayers at least $467,585.
Judicial Watch also obtained records for Michelle Obama’s 2012 Aspen ski outing on Presidents’ Day Weekend. The total cost for the February, 2012 vacation was at least $83,182.99. The bill for the Secret Service alone, including accommodations at the deluxe Fasching Haus Condominium and The Inn at Aspen, was $48,950.38. FoxNews.com noted that the trip was the 16th vacation in three years taken by the Obama family.
The fact is, the Obamas are abusing the public trust and the taxpayers with unnecessary luxurious vacations and travel. These staggering costs show why these documents were covered-up and we had to sue in federal court to get them. Another transparency fail for the Obama gang, but thanks to our federal lawsuit it is another accountability win for the American taxpayer.
One of the top stories coming out of Washington this week was the revelation that Bill Clinton’s Presidential Library has been steadfastly withholding tens of thousands of pages of presidential records that should have long-since been released to the public. As Politico put it in a story exposing the stonewalling:
A trove of Clinton White House records long processed for release remains hidden from public view at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock — even though the legal basis initially used to withhold them expired more than a year ago. The papers contain confidential advice given to or sought by President Bill Clinton, including communications with then-first lady Hillary Clinton and records about people considered for appointments to federal office.
Fox News added: “Some have speculated that the documents may contain new scandals that could prove problematic for a potential 2016 presidential run by Hillary Clinton.”
But, of course, none of that comes as news to regular readers of the Weekly Update, who will recall that, since as far back as 2006, Judicial Watch has been spearheading the battle to force the Clintons to stop stonewalling and produce the Presidential Library documents. With relentless perseverance, we have been successful. And the battle continues unabated.
On Wednesday, February 26, on the heels of the Politico article, we filed yet another Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Clinton Presidential Library to try to get to the bottom of what the Clintons are covering up. This time, we are seeking an additional 33,000 pages of records still being withheld by the Clinton Library (some of which should have been released to us last year in separate litigation). Specifically, the new Judicial Watch FOIA request asks for:
Any and all records contained in former President Clinton’s presidential archives that are currently being withheld as described in the enclosed Politico article. Judicial Watch believes that 33,000 pages of records exist that are responsive to this FOIA request ….
In my experience with the Washington culture of corruption, politicians don’t skirt the law and cover their tracks unless they have something very damaging they are trying to hide. And with Hillary Clinton now positioning herself for another presidential run in 2016, that information could be very damaging indeed.
Significantly, just as this edition of the Weekly Update was going to press – and on the heels of the Judicial Watch FOIA request – the Clinton Library announced that it will release some 4,000 or 5,000 pages of the previously withheld records today (Friday afternoon, February 28).
Do you think that the press attention and our FOIA and lawsuits have anything to do with the belated release?
As those familiar with the Washington political practices know, Friday afternoons are when political pros dump the information they hope will be lost over the coming weekend. That practice was perfected, by the way, during the Clinton administration.
All of those games, of course, are typical of the Clinton way of dribbling out the slow release of information they hope will never see the light of day. They are past masters of the cover-up. And that’s why Judicial Watch has been so relentless in trying to break down the stonewall that protect their record of corruption from being fully disclosed.
You may recall that we filed our first FOIA request with the Clinton Library more than eight years ago. And even then, it was not until October, 2013, after seven years of litigation, that we finally obtained more than 57,000 pages of previously withheld documents – documents that the Clinton’s had jealously guarded from public scrutiny. They revealed formerly undisclosed information about the National Taskforce on Health Care Reform, a “cabinet-level” taskforce chaired by Hillary Clinton during the first term of the Bill Clinton presidency.
According to Clinton Presidential Library records, “The cabinet-level Task Force, chaired by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, was given primary responsibility for providing advice and making recommendations to the President regarding the national health care reform package.” A small category of Health Care Task Force-related documents had previously been released by the Clinton Presidential Library, but the records of the Health Care Task Force itself had not been disclosed. And they told a story of Hillary Clinton’s infamous control of the attempted government health care takeover.
Several years ago, Judicial Watch released a smaller batch of records obtained from the Clinton Presidential Library related to the National Taskforce on Health Care Reform. Those documents revealed:
A June 18, 1993 internal Memorandum containing the startling admission from a staff member: “… I have trouble coming up with a precedent in our peacetime history for such broad and centralized control over a sector of the economy… “
A “Confidential” May 26, 1993 Memorandum from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to Hillary Clinton entitled, “Health Care Reform Communications,” criticizing the Task Force as a “secret cabal of Washington policy ‘wonks’” that has engaged in “choking off information” from the public regarding health care reform.
A February 5, 1993 Draft Memorandum noting the development of an “interest group data base” detailing which organizations “support(ed) us in the election” and tracking personal information about organization leaders, such as their home phone numbers, addresses, “biographies, analysis of credibility in the media, and known relationships with Congress people.”
Isn’t it amazing how history repeats itself! I suspect that you will find some Obamacare records that are almost exact duplicates of the other failed socialist healthcare effort.
So now, nearly a decade after Judicial Watch first sounded the alarm about the Clinton Library’s shroud of secrecy and began breaking down the stonewalls, the nation’s media has caught up with the story. (And we were the group that forced the Clinton Library to disgorge Hillary’s schedules as First Lady and her phone logs.)
With our FOIA request earlier this week, we have now put some teeth in the quest to get to the truth. You can see the result of our efforts yourself at the Clinton Library website now (the new documents should be posted.)
I would be hard pressed to overstate the seriousness of the Obama IRS campaign against conservatives and the First Amendment. And we need your help now to stop it dead in its tracks.
Simply put, the Obama administration has now proposed a new IRS rule that would, in short, effectively shut down many conservative nonprofit organizations that dare to criticize the leftist agenda of Obama and his allies.
On February 26, Judicial Watch sent a comprehensive filing to the Internal Revenue Service requesting that the out-of-control agency withdraw its dangerous new IRS proposal to change the rules governing nonprofit First Amendment activity. As we told the IRS, the new plainly unconstitutional regulation “arbitrarily reverses 53 years of administrative and judicial precedent.”
We specifically object to the proposed rules concerning First Amendment-protected activity of nonprofit (exempt organizations) organized under Section 501 (c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Conservative “(c) (4)’s” have been improperly targeted by the IRS under the Obama administration. Indeed, the letter details Judicial Watch concerns about IRS abuse:
[Judicial Watch] is very concerned about both the opaque process by which the proposed regulations were developed, as well as the context—the apparent abuse of authority and potentially unconstitutional and criminal conduct by IRS employees with respect to the review of applications for exemption under §501(c)(4) filed by hundreds of organizations, the vast majority of which were “tea party” or other organizations supporting conservative policy principles and opposing many of the initiatives promoted by President Obama and his liberal allies—out of which the proposed regulations apparently arose. The secret manner in which these proposed regulations were developed, and the substantive provisions that would overturn more than 50 years of settled precedent regarding what is “intervention in a political campaign,” only increase the suspicion that the IRS is not attempting to administer the law as it is, but is attempting to arrogate to itself the making of the law, a function belonging solely to Congress, and not to the IRS.
The Judicial Watch letter notes that the Obama IRS’s recent “targeting of conservative non-profits” made the new “regulations that target these very same groups during an election year” particularly suspect, adding:
Although the IRS has alleged that its true motivation behind promulgating these rules is not to shut down the speech of conservative § 501(c)(4) organizations in the middle of an election year, the timing, overbreadth, and under-inclusiveness suggest otherwise. Further, this would not be the first time that the impetus for a tax statute or regulation was to shut down the speech of opponents.
Under a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Guidance for Tax-Exempt Social Welfare Organizations on Candidate-Related Political Activities (NPRM), the IRS seeks to replace the decades-old definition – “participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office” – with a new term – “candidate-related political activity.” Judicial Watch notes that the new rules violate the First Amendment and would censor free speech.
The groups targeted by these new rules have a First Amendment right to “fully contribute to the debate and thereby foster our democratic system. Associational activity should be encouraged, rather than prohibited, because it protects citizens from overreaching by the government.”
The Judicial Watch letter, which included a request for a public hearing, concludes with a call for the IRS to withdraw the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking:
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking violated the Paperwork Reduction Act by failing to include all of the new recordkeeping that will be required by §501(c)(4) organizations if the proposed regulations are adopted.
The Service has no authority to adopt a regulation that departs so radically from its prior, long-standing interpretation of the definition of intervention in a campaign for public office.
The proposed regulation also arbitrarily creates a separate definition of “intervention in a political campaign” that irrationally applies only to §501(c)(4) organizations.
If adopted, the proposed regulation would violate the constitutional rights of §501(c)(3) organizations that, as noted by Justice Blackmun in Regan v. Taxation with Representation of Washington, must depend on affiliated §501(c)(4) organizations to engage in substantial lobbying.
The proposed regulation arbitrarily defines certain activities as “candidate-related political activities” even when they are conducted on a nonpartisan basis. These arbitrary definitions reverse 53 years of administrative and judicial interpretations regarding “intervention in a campaign for public office,” and would improperly cause many nonpartisan activities and issue advocacy conducted by §501(c)(4) organizations in support of their civic and social welfare objectives to be treated as political activity.
The proposed regulation’s definition of “candidate” is impermissibly broad, because the Service has no authority to overturn Congress’ decision to effectively ratify the definition in Treas. Reg. §1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(iii) by not amending that definition when it enacted §527 in 1976, and by re-enacting §501(c)(4) without amendment in 1986.
In addition, the proposed definition of candidate will create additional complexity for §501(c)(4) organizations that do engage in candidate-related political activity, because they will have to keep one set of records for purposes of measuring and reporting on Form 990, Schedule C, the extent of their “candidate-related political activity,” and a second set of records for purposes of reporting and paying any tax due on exempt function expenditures pursuant to §527(f), using Form 1120-POL.
The letter to the IRS was signed on behalf of Judicial Watch by attorneys Alan P. Dye, Charles M. Watkins, Heidi K. Abegg, and Sarah Moone, recognized national experts in nonprofit law, First Amendment law and government regulation, of the law firm Webster, Chamberlain & Bean, LLP. This filing was a major effort and would not have been possible without the generous support of our grassroots Judicial Watch members! (Judicial Watch is part of a coalition of conservative and liberal groups, including the ACLU, opposed to the rules.)
Make no mistake about it, these unconstitutional new IRS rules are a dagger aimed at the heart of the conservative movement. They are a continuation of the IRS scandal that saw the entire Tea Party movement suppressed by the IRS to help President Obama’s reelection. President Obama and his partisan allies in Congress want to stifle the speech of Americans opposed to their policies. This abuse of the IRS is every bit as much of a crisis for this Republic as anything Nixon did.
One year ago, in my speech to the annual CPAC conference, I warned. “The rule of law is under attack from President Obama’s imperial presidency.” And now we know for sure that Obama used his IRS henchmen to quash political dissent. And now, with the proposed new IRS assault on freedom of speech, the Obama imperial presidency is taking definitive steps to silence the opposition once and for all.
The IRS is no longer officially allowing public comments on these rule changes. For those who responded to my requests to comment, thank you – the IRS received a record 144,000 plus comments (mostly opposing the rule)!
So, if you’re as outraged by this as I am, please call your U.S. Senator and House of Representatives member immediately to tell them how you feel about the IRS power grab. The U.S. Capitol switchboard number for reaching your senator or House member is 202-224-3121. Just tell the operator whom you wish to reach, and they will connect you. Please don’t delay.
Until next week… Tom Fitton, President
Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.