REHOBOTH BEACH, DEL.---The Obama presidential campaign permitted a pool reporter at a fund-raiser in Nebraska on Wednesday hosted by billionaire Warren Buffett. The complete pool report is at the end.
Some background: Obama started developing a relationship with Buffett and his daughter Susie back in 2004. At the time--just after he was elected to the U.S. Senate--Obama, cultivating a man of the people image, was not anxious to highlight his budding association with Buffett--or the fact that he chartered a plane to meet him. Here's a column I wrote on Dec. 6, 2004 about Obama--who this week is taking on transparency as a new cause--and his trip to lunch with Buffet and his daughter. Also back then--Mitt Romney and Obama--now both 2008 hopefuls--trade zingers at the 2004 Gridiron dinner.
December 6, 2004 Monday
Obama takes secretive flight to visit Buffett
A week ago today, Sen.-elect Barack Obama (D-Ill.) chartered an airplane and flew to Omaha, Neb., to lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett and his daughter Susan, who donated $1,000 to Obama last August.
Obama would rather you not know about his meal with Buffett and his daughter. It is none of your business to know that Obama went to some effort to meet with Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who is one of the most influential business executives in the country. Or that the meeting was arranged at the suggestion of a well-connected donor.
I can't understand why someone who is one of the most popular political figures in the country, who is the author of a best-selling book and who even has his autograph on sale on eBay, does not want to operate in the sunlight.
Obama continues, as I've noted in past columns, to not see much point in transparency about his activities; this was true during the campaign and remains so in the transition period before he is sworn into the Senate next month. I think Obama should be open and not secretive when he travels on government or political business.
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Perhaps Obama or members of his staff are worried about his image.
Obama chartered a plane to fly to Omaha. Obama's campaign arranged for and paid for the plane, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs. Obama traveled by private plane because it made the trip easier to work with his schedule, said Gibbs.
Charter travel certainly does save time. But it is hardly a man-of-the-people touch. Most of us have no choice but to fly commercial. And most of us do not have a campaign fund to pay for a charter.
Yes, flying a charter to lunch with Buffett may not play in Peoria.
Obama met with Buffett at the suggestion of Susan Buffett, who, like her father, is a frequent, but relatively modest Democratic donor. She mentioned Obama to her father and he was interested in meeting him, according to Gibbs.
Gibbs said the Omaha trip was not put on any schedule for Obama because it was not a public event." He said he thought they may have discussed tax and Social Security reform. Later this month, Obama heads to his native Hawaii for a Democratic fund-raiser, to visit the Punahou School, where he graduated in 1979, and to see family. Tonight, he speaks to the Economic Club in Chicago.
Democrat Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, both rising stars in their parties, keynoted Saturday's winter Gridiron Club dinner in Washington. Each used heavy doses of self-deprecating humor before the black-tie gathering of journalists. (Disclosure: I am in the club. )
Both men are mentioned as possible 2008 contenders, and that provided much grist for their respective funny shticks. Obama and Romney, the dueling stars, were very, very good. Romney was better, mainly because he also sang (a ditty to the tune of "Charley and the MTA") and he came with a witty visual presentation.
'Nowhere to go but down'
Romney had a few zingers aimed at Obama. Obama, he said, is not seeking the limelight" after all. Obama has said that again and again"-- then Romney named some of the many national shows Obama has been on just in the past few weeks.
Obama, who went on first, said everything changed for him after he keynoted the Democratic convention.
It's like I was shot out of a cannon. I am so overexposed, I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse. "After all the attention -- People magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair, Letterman -- I figure there's nowhere to go from here but down. So tonight, I announce my retirement from the United States Senate. I had a good run."
He said he was not letting all the attention go to his head. He joked that he was hanging out with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson at a Los Angeles restaurant when Barbra Steisand called him on his cell phone. And he counseled her, you can't just get caught up in the hype."
Of course, all the hype, said Obama, generates wacky tabloid coverage." And with that he hoisted a poster, a mock cover of the National Enquirer with the headline: Obama's shocking secret. He's Strom Thurmond's love child."
It is tough, kidded Obama, to live up to all the expectations. There are people in Kenya, his father's homeland, who expect his election to mean the United States will fund new roads, new bridges and new schools.
Joked Obama, "I had to explain to them how it works. First comes the invasion, and then billions in aid."
Obama Buffett Pool Report by Julianna Goldman- Bloomberg
Roughly 200 guests crowded the Ironwood Country Club in Omaha, Nebraska for a fundraiser hosted by Warren Buffett. Those at the general reception (the open press portion) paid $500, while around 35 guests paid $2,300 to attend a private reception with Buffett and Obama.
The campaign did not say how much was raised tonight, and said they don't normally release those figures. They did say that Buffett will be holding another fundraiser for Obama sometime this fall -- location, date TBD.
We could see guests dining on cheese and fruit, pastries, as well as passed hors d'oeuvres of chicken and mango skewers, seared tuna on pita, roast beef on baguette slices. They were also passing red and white wine (cabernet and chardonnay).
Sen. Obama was joined by his wife and two daughters.
Buffett made the opening remarks, spoke for around 6 minutes. He spoke about the disparity of wealth in the U.S. and told a few funny jokes -- most notably was the story of a Wall Streeter who went to his wife and told her if she could just learn how to make dinner, they could fire the chef. The wife said ``if you could just learn to make love we could fire the gardener.'' Then he went on to say ``what we're going to do, we're going to fire the administration.''
Buffett criticized the income/payroll tax system, saying he pays 15% while the servers this evening start at 15.3%. He said that we have ``abundance, but we don't have as much fairness'' in the system.
``Apparently the government in its wisdom thinks that some guy like me is like the condor or the spotted owl, to be protected,'' Buffett said. ``Fairness has left the tax system a long time ago.''
Obama then took the microphone, gave his standard stump-speech speaking for a little less than 20 minutes. He hit the main issues: education, health care, energy, foreign policy.
He took questions from the audience for just over 25 minutes -- the first was probably the most hard-hitting:
Why you and not Mrs. Clinton?
Obama said that he ``thinks very highly'' of Sen. Clinton...he said that the campaign has been able to draw new people into the process, they have more donations of $200 or less than the entire rest of the democratic field combined.
``I've been able to reach out to independents and republicans in ways that a lot of democrats have not had the capacity to do.''
A woman asked Obama what she should tell people question her support for him and say that he doesn't have the foreign policy experience.
He got a laugh from the audience when he responded by saying ``well let me give you a tutorial.''
``When people say they are looking for experience, what they really mean is judgment. The assumption is experience is a proxy for judgment and in some cases it is,'' he said.
``Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have lots of experience, no judgment.'' Also said, ``Foreign policy is one of those areas where I actually feel most confident about my judgment.''
**He spent the most amount of time on this question than any of the others.
Another person asked about the cycle of hand-gun violence in impoverished communities across the U.S.
Obama said that it's definitely a ``manifestation of a weakened community,'' but he also said that urban America and rural America have to have a conversation about gun culture.
The urban communities have to understand that the tradition of taking a son hunting is like ``being out and playing catch with your dad.
9:15 a.m. COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA, Obama will hold a discussion on foreign policy.
12:15 p.m. ATLANTIC, IA, Obama will hold a press availability.
1:00 p.m. ATLANTIC, IA, Obama and his family will attend a potluck.
4:15 p.m. DES MOINES, IA, Obama and his family will visit the Iowa State Fair.