WASHINGTON – The year before he joined the White House staff, President Obamas senior adviser David Plouffe accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from organizations and companies with interests connected to U.S. foreign policy, telecommunications, business and regulation.
Plouffe disclosed 20 honoraria from 2010, totaling about $500,000, in a federal financial disclosure report filed in January 2011. The report also showed dozens of additional speeches for which Plouffe was paid more than $5,000 for which he wasnt required to disclose the precise amounts or dates.
Plouffe declined to comment. The White House, which is pressing Republican challenger Mitt Romney to release more of his tax returns, wouldnt provide details of Plouffes speaking engagements beyond what was listed in the disclosure forms. For speeches before 2010, the forms required Plouffe only to give the name of organizations that paid him more than $5,000. Dates and amounts paid arent listed.
Republicans are highlighting one of the payments after the Washington Post reported that Plouffe was paid $100,000 for two speeches in Nigeria by a subsidiary of MTN Group Ltd, Africas largest wireless operator, in December 2010. The Post said the parent company has been under scrutiny by the U.S. because of its dealings with Iran and Syria. There were no legal restrictions on Plouffes speech, the Post said.
Any time you start talking about $100,000, red flags should have gone up right away, said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, an advocacy group in Washington. Hed have to think about why is someone giving him that kind of money for a speech.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said criticism of Plouffes speeches before he joined the White House is misplaced. He said Republicans didnt criticize former advisers to President George W. Bush for giving paid speeches to companies that also had dealings with Iran.
This is clearly politics, he said of criticism from the Republican National Committee.
The disclosure report did not describe the nature of Plouffes presentations. A brochure from the Food Marketing Institutes 2010 Midwinter Executive Conference said Plouffe would speak as part of a session on how changing demographics were shaping the economic and political landscape.
The disclosure form showed Plouffe also was paid $48,000 for speaking in Istanbul in March 1010 to Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri, another telecommunications company that sought business in Iran and Syria.
Plouffes other paid speeches also raise questions about what influence groups are seeking with the administration, Holman said. You either have a real lot of money to burn or youre trying to do influence peddling, or both, he said of the groups hiring speakers such as Plouffe.