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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: Golf, fundraisers for President Barack Obama, while his jobs council never met

In a video and an infographic, the Republican National Committee last week amplified a charge first raised by Mitt Romney on the stump — that President Barack Obama has held more than 100 fundraisers in the past six months, yet his jobs council didn't meet once.

"In the last six months, he has held 100 fundraisers, and guess how many meetings he has had with his jobs council." Romney said in a Wednesday campaign event in Bowling Green, Ohio. "None. Zero. Zero in the last six months. So it makes it very clear where his priorities are."

The next day, the RNC released a graphic that provided some additional specifics. Over the past six months, the graphic said, Obama has golfed 10 times and held 106 fundraisers, but his jobs council has never met. The RNC supplemented this with a video that added a goofy sound track as well as audio and video of an exchange on this topic between reporters and White House press secretary Jay Carney.

We won't pass judgment on how Obama should spend his time, but we will check the accuracy of the numbers.

The jobs council

Let's start by explaining what the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness actually is. Its website explains that the panel was established "to provide nonpartisan advice to the President" on strengthening the economy and creating jobs.

The council is chaired by the chairman and CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, and is populated by a variety of other business figures, such as former AOL chairman Steve Case, venture capitalist John Doerr, former Citigroup and Time Warner chairman Richard D. Parsons, as well as economist Laura D'Andrea Tyson and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

Checking the lack of recent meetings was straightforward. The council's own Web page cites four meetings of the council so far — Feb. 24, 2011, at the White House, June 13, 2011, in Durham, N.C., Oct. 11, 2011, in Pittsburgh, and Jan. 17, 2012, at the White House.

The Web page does add that the council has also conducted "18 listening and action sessions in communities around the country with businesses and local leaders" and that it plans to hold more in the coming months. However, the Web page doesn't appear to consider these to be "meetings," and since the most recent was just slightly over six months ago, the RNC's claim is correct.

Asked about the lack of meetings in a news briefing, Carney said "the president solicits and receives input and advice from members of his jobs council and others about economic initiatives all the time. … There's no specific reason (why they haven't met) except the president has obviously got a lot on his plate."

Golf and fundraising

For statistics on Obama's golf and fundraising activities, we turned to the RNC, which provided us with an Excel spreadsheet it had compiled internally. We then double-checked the RNC's work.

There is no official tally of the president's daily activities. There is one tally that's unofficial but widely respected — compiled by longtime CBS News correspondent Mark Knoller.

The RNC offered links to news accounts to back up Obama's 10 golf outings in the past six months, and they confirmed golf outings on the dates cited by the RNC count.

Now, ever since William Howard Taft, only three presidents have sworn off golf — Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter — according to Don Van Natta Jr., a journalist and author of First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush. Obama has played golf less frequently than some presidents, such as Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton, but more frequently than others. In mid June, about 3 ½ years into his term, Obama played his 100th round of golf, according to Knoller's count.

By comparison, Eisenhower played more than 800 rounds during his two terms, according to Van Natta. Lyndon B. Johnson picked up the game so he could lobby senators to pass his civil rights agenda, but Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan "played sparingly and even somewhat grimly," Van Natta wrote. John F. Kennedy, a member of the golf team while at Harvard, was probably the most gifted presidential golfer. Golf Digest ranked Eisenhower second on its list, followed by Gerald Ford, Franklin D. Roosevelt (before he developed polio), both Bushes, Clinton and then, at No. 8, Obama.

As for fundraising events, the RNC provided dates and locations. However, we were able to check this list using two sources.

The White House's archive of presidential speeches and remarks offers chronological links to transcripts of the president's comments at every public appearance he makes. Many, though not all, fundraising events are included in this archive.

Meanwhile, to track events that were closed to the media — and thus wouldn't be included in the archive of speeches and remarks — we relied on our personal archive of White House pool reports, which are the dispatches written by journalists covering the White House several times a day and distributed to all members of the White House news corps. These pool reports will typically mention that the president is attending a fundraiser even if the event is closed to the media.

Using these two sources, we were able to confirm virtually all of the fundraisers cited by the RNC. In only three cases were we unable to verify fundraisers cited by the RNC using these sources. This doesn't mean that these three events didn't happen; we just couldn't find pool reports that specifically backed them up. However, even if the actual number of fundraisers in the last six months turned out to be 103 rather than 106, we won't quibble — the number would be close enough for us to consider it accurate.

All told, we rate the claim True.

PolitiFact: Golf, fundraisers for President Barack Obama, while his jobs council never met 07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:31am]
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