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Obama Admin’s Summits Could Be Better Timed

EthicsDaily.com has posted severalarticles about the March 7 meeting between goodwill Baptists and Obama administration officials. It was a good meeting.
I asked a couple questions during the meeting. The most important was a question I asked of Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Monteiro had distributed a sheet that promoted 12 “White House Community Partnership Summits” that will be held at cities around the country from February to mid-July.

According to the handout, the day summits will “bring senior Obama Administration officials and Agency Staff from diverse policy areas together with civic leaders, business owners and other community stakeholders to discuss issues critical to each particular community, region and the nation.”

He asked us to encourage members of our minister and clergy networks to attend one of the summits.

In my mind, these summits bore striking resemblance to the conferences that the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives hosted in politically strategic cities in 2004.

David Kuo, in his book “Tempting Faith,” described these conferences as a blatant effort to garner support from Hispanic and black religious leaders for then President Bush’s re-election.

So blatant that an extra conference was added in the last days of the re-election campaign – in mid-October – in Miami.

I asked Monteiro to distinguish his summits from the 2004 conferences during the Bush administration for me.

Monteiro replied that his summits were not organized by the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

The summits were organized by the Office of Public Engagement and were addressed to a broader constituency.

He also said he was familiar with Kuo’s book and knew that selections of host cities for the 2004 conferences had been based on polling data that indicated they would have maximum impact on Bush’s re-election campaign.

He stated the selection for the 2012 summits was determined by requests for assistance from the communities themselves; there was no input from President Obama’s re-election campaign and no polling data was consulted.

Monteiro indicated that, in his opinion, it would be illegal for his office to do what Kuo claims was done in 2004.

There is no doubt in my mind that the interaction between Obama administration policymakers and the public at these summits will be beneficial to both.

Personally, to avoid any appearance of impropriety, I think it would be wise to refrain from holding such summits during years when presidents are campaigning for re-election.

BrucePrescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman, Okla., chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He blogs at Mainstream Baptist.

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