After two days of requests, The White House Press Office and the National Security Council Press Office continue to refuse to provide information relating to a third-party privately-organized invitation-only gathering scheduled for 25 May 2016 in the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB) within The White House complex which will focus upon commerce with the Republic of Cuba.
The meeting will be hosted by the Obama Administration, managed by The National Security Council, and scheduled to include senior-level representatives of Departments and Agencies of the United States Government (including the Acting Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury). No participant has been disclosed.
The guest list includes representatives of United States companies, consultancies, lobbyists, and organizations. No participant has been disclosed.
An individual representing a Washington, DC-based Republic of Cuba-focused advocacy group, which was reported to have retained a Washington, DC-based lobbying entity for Republic of Cuba-focused activities, was reported by an invitee as the only non-United States government representative addressing the gathering.
On 20 May 2016, Washington, DC-based Business Forward, which has extensive relationships throughout the Obama Administration, was identified as the undisclosed third-party organizer of the invitation-only gathering. Business Forward did not make the disclosure publicly and it has not been reported publicly.
The gathering is not disclosed in any of the event platforms used by Business Forward; the gathering is consistent with the organization’s “Fly-in Events: Attend a half-day briefing in Washington, D.C. with the President’s top advisors and members of Congress.”
From an executive of a United States-based company that has engaged in commerce with the Republic of Cuba, and was neither informed of the gathering nor invited to the gathering: “If accurate, there are fundamental questions of transparency and openness (Sunshine Acts). Not a good narrative.”
The Obama Administration should not be “renting” meeting space in The White House complex, creating parallels to how guests were selected to overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton Administration.
When United States government officials participate in privately-organized events at public venues, the private sector participants may be paying a fee to the organizer. For example, if a for-profit or not-for-profit entity organizes an event at a hotel or conference center, anyone who makes payment may attend. And, United States government representatives may deliver remarks- keynote, speaker, on a panel, etc. In these instances, the identities of the organizer(s), the speaker(s) and often the participants, are publicly available- and are so long before the event. There is transparency.
When the Obama Administration deliberately maintains secrecy- even after inquiries, about an event being organized at The White House by an outside entity, and permits the outside entity to determine who is invited and who will deliver remarks… on issues of importance to many individuals, consultancies, companies and organizations, a conclusion is The Obama Administration wants to determine who is considered of value by selectively enhancing reputations.
For most individuals and entities in Washington, DC, the sentences “I just spoke to an invitation-only gathering at The White House” and “I just came from a private briefing at The White House” have political, reputational, and financial value. And will be used in marketing materials and in interviews for a long time.
The Obama Administration should make attending this gathering available to everyone- and not selectively permit any one organization to benefit by having a role specifically designed to bring it value… at the expense of all those who have a professional interest in issues relating to the Republic of Cuba.