Obama campaign nixes cell phones at some fundraisers

ByABC News
May 14, 2012, 10:17 PM

— -- You have to turn off your cell phone on an airplane, but at least you get to keep it. That's not the case when high-flying donors pony up for first-class access to hear President Barack Obama at exclusive fundraisers -- his campaign takes the devices away. So much for live-tweeting or videotaping Obama's pitch.

The Washington Post's David Nakamura -- the "pool" print journalist representing his colleagues and reporting back to them on Obama's trip to New York -- noticed the practice as the president wooed group of about 60 wealthy contributors Monday at the home of Hamilton "Tony" James, president and chief operating officer of Blackstone Group, a large private equity firm. Each of the attendees had shelled out $35,800.

Here's how Nakamura described the scene:

Dozens of guests, men in suits and women in dresses and pant suits, were seated around elegant tables eating dinner in two adjoining rooms. They were sitting on gold colored dining chairs with green seat cushions, and the table cloths had a gold flowered design. Oil artwork in ornate gold frames hung on the wall. It appeared when we came in that staff had confiscated cell phones, which were stored in plastic bags.

"Plastic bags?" Yep. An Obama campaign aide described the practice as "standard operating procedure for the fundraisers at private residences." and noted that "guests get a photo from the photoline." The aide, who requested anonymity, said the rules are different at regular events (like rallies) or fundraisers in public venues.

That would roughly fit with media coverage rules at the two events. Fundraisers at private homes are typically either closed entirely to the press, or open only to a print reporter (like Nakamura), while the larger ones often have looser rules, often including television cameras for at least a portion of the goings on.

Still, the net effect of the policy is to limit sharply the likelihood that someone could take any remarks that the Obama campaign wants to keep private and make them public, either via Twitter or even by recording the event and then, for example, sharing the video on YouTube. At the Monday fundraiser, the media pool was ushered out as the president started to take questions from the audience. But perhaps an incriminating cocktail napkin note will emerge.

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