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No press at President’s Bay Area fundraisers

Apparently there will be no press access to President Obama’s fundraisers Sunday in Woodside and Atherton.

This is different from his last Bay Area fundraising trip: In April, the White House travelling press corps and a designated local pool reporter – responsible for filing a report to the White House which is then disseminated to any interested media outlets – were allowed in. I was the pool reporter for the exclusive dinner at salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s San Francisco home, as well as for the big Masonic Auditorium rally that followed; the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci was the pool reporter for a breakfast at San Francisco’s St. Regis Hotel the next day.

At the Benioff dinner, the press was ushered in essentially through a back door and kept in a holding area. We were walked into the courtyard where the dinner was being held just in time to hear the President begin his remarks; we were walked out just as he started taking questions from the guests. At no time did we have an opportunity to ask questions of the guests, and certainly not of the President.

But at least we heard what he said. The President will hold one open-press event during this trip: a town-hall style meeting on job creation Monday at the Mountain View headquarters of networking site LinkedIn.

I can think of a few possible reasons why Sunday’s fundraisers won’t be open to the press like April’s were.

For one, when the President was here in April, he hadn’t just announced plans to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help solve the nation’s fiscal woes. Perhaps he doesn’t feel this is the right time to be seen accepting massive donations – the dinner costs $35,800 per plate, with $5,000 to his campaign and the rest to the Democratic National Committee – from those very same wealthy Americans.

For another, Sunday’s fundraisers are happening right across the Bay from ground zero of a situation that’s still rippling through his Administration: the bankruptcy of Fremont-based solar manufacturer Solyndra after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee under the Recovery Act. It’s not an issue White House officials – or Solyndra executives, for that matter – have been eager to discuss, but it’ll certainly be on the minds of the Bay Area hoi polloi at these fundraisers.

I asked Marjan Philhour, a San Francisco-based fundraising consultant who is executive director of the Bay Area Democrats PAC, about my ideas. “I don’t believe the decision you’ve described on press carries any particular significance,” she replied.

Naturally, I always come at situations like this from the standpoint that the press should have access to everything the President does on a trip like this. Not everyone sees it that way.

“I have never understood the practice of letting press into fundraising events,” said Michael Fraioli, a Washington, D.C.-based fundraiser with experience in California campaigns. “There is never a ‘good’ story about political fundraising. Some are less objectionable than others but that’s as good as it gets.”

“Donors attend events to mix with each other and with the guest(s) of honor – not with reporters. President Obama has held firm to his position on PAC money and lobbyist money. I can’t say I agree but he has held firm and it does eliminate a fairly large pool of potential donors,” he continued. “Unlike the ‘good’ government groups which are in the habit of accusing politicians of granting special access to contributors, you will be able to see every contribution to these events on line and with details about the donors (employer and occupation). The watchdog groups give us only the information they choose to give when they choose to give it.”