President Obama’s newest campaign commercial was filmed inside the West Wing of the White House, an act that campaign finance experts and good government groups generally agreed was legal if not particularly commendable.
In the ad, the president – sitting in the White House chief of staff’s office – lays out his view of the choice voters face this November.
White House officials confirmed that the ad was filmed in the Chief of Staff’s office after ABC News inquired about it, a reporter having recognized the décor. Officials denied there was any concern about the propriety of the president being filmed inside the West Wing in a campaign ad, noting that previous presidents had done so.
Staffers for President George W. Bush say they expressly avoided filming campaign ads within the West Wing itself, though they were under the impression that the White House Residence and outside the West Wing building – the Colonnade — were regarded as acceptable. Myriad Bush 2004 ads featured him walking in the Colonnade. (See one HERE)
Previous presidents saw no such lines. When President Bill Clinton ran for re-election in 1996 he was featured in the Oval Office (See the ad HERE.) President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 convention documentary featured the Oval Office and the Roosevelt Room. (See at approximately 15:30 into the film HERE.)
He also had his own ad offering his view of the choice voters faced in November 1984, shot sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office itself. (See it HERE.)
In 1976, President Gerald Ford was filmed working with his top advisers in the Oval Office itself and speaking directly to camera in an interview with a tell-tale curving wall behind him. (See it HERE.)
Four years later, President Jimmy Carter was filmed in the Oval Office for a reelection ad. (See it HERE.)
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said the Obama appearance was legal, but it was “an unwise politicization of the highest office in the land.”
“I find it a bit disturbing that he would do it in the West Wing office,” McGehee said. “The Residence is different. Repurposing previous footage is different. But filming in a West Wing office – it may not be precedent-setting but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Others agreed. “Given that it’s not a solicitation, there’s no specific prohibition against it,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government. “Whether it’s the best idea, I think that’s a separate question. Americans like to think the West Wing is sacrosanct and used only for official business.”
“I don’t think that political ads should be filmed in the White House,” said Fred Wertheimer, Founder and President of Democracy 21. Wertheimer added that the ad didn’t overtly advertise that it had been shot in the West Wing, which he said was significant, in the sense that the president wasn’t exploiting the trappings of the presidency.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch said, “I know there’s this pretend division between the Residence and the so-called official part of the building, but just because your lawyers say something’s OK doesn’t mean it’s OK. We expected this president to go above and beyond in terms of ethics and adhering to the law.” Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com