Friday, September 2, 2011

Whatever Happened To The "Dinner with Barack and Joe" Sweepstakes?

The names of the Dinner Winners remain top secret as Obama for America launches a second, new sweepstakes for dinner with President Obama...
UPDATE, Oct. 27: CLICK TO READ: President dines with contest winners
Four lucky citizens have no idea they've won Obama for America's "Dinner with Barack and Joe" sweepstakes. Entries for the delicious Campaign 2012 fundraiser closed more than two months ago, on June 30th. The winners of the private dinner with President Obama and Vice President Biden were supposed to be selected in a "random drawing" on July 7th, and "notified by phone or e-mail by July 10, 2011," according to the Official Rules.

Katie Hogan, Deputy Press Secretary for the President's 2012 Campaign, told Obama Foodorama that while the four winners have been chosen, they haven't been notified. Hogan had no explanation for why, and added that she doesn't know when the winners will receive their thrilling news. Meantime, though there has been no big announcement from Campaign HQ, President Obama is again being offered as a dinner date for four more citizens, in another effort to woo donors. The "Dinner with Barack II" sweepstakes, a separate fundraiser, is now open for entries.

VP Biden is not included as a part of the second dinner package, Hogan said. Entries for the second contest close on Sept. 30, and it has its own set of Official Rules. These contain significant changes from Dinner I, including the "approximate retail value" assigned to the private Presidential dinner itself. It's doubled, from $100 to $200. (Above: The graphic for "Dinner with Barack II")

But Dinner II is getting less of a push from Obama for America. Potential campaign donors received numerous e-mails about Dinner I, including four from the President himself and one from Biden. But there's not been a single e-mail from anyone at Obama for America for "Dinner with Barack II."

The Presidential dinner plans are open-ended...
Though there are now potentially eight lucky citizens who will be enjoying a meal with President Obama, no hard details for the dinners have been worked out, Hogan said.

"We don't have a date or location for either dinner," Hogan said.

She added that she believes the dinners will take place before Election Day in November of 2012, but said there's no actual time frame for when the dinners have to be held. The Official Rules confirm this. Hogan declined to say if the dinners would be in Chicago, the location of Campaign HQ, or Washington, DC, or somewhere else entirely.

One detail Hogan seemed certain about. There are currently no plans to add any other White House A-listers to the lineup for the second dinner, Hogan said. Biden was added to the Dinner I sweepstakes to "sweeten the pot," so to speak, after the contest had been going on for almost two weeks. "Dinner with Barack Just Got More Interesting" was the title of President Obama's video announcement that Biden would also have a seat at the table with what the Campaign dubbed "everyday Americans."

Rule changes...
There's not only a difference in the assigned cash value of the total worth of each prize package between Dinner I and Dinner II, but there's also a different selection process for winners. Hogan said she didn't know why the rules have changed. (Above: A graphic created for the Dinner I sweepstakes)

The prize packages for both dinners includes a round-trip coach-class air fare and one night's hotel stay at "the Destination" of the dinner for each winner. For Dinner I, the total cash value is $1075, with the "approximate retail value" of dinner with the President pegged at $100, airfare at $700, and the hotel stay at $275. Dinner II is pricier, at $1,150. As noted above, the "approximate retail value" for dinner with the President has doubled in value, from $100 to $200. The air fare has also gone up to $800, while the hotel stay is worth less, and valued at $150.

How winners are selected...
For both dinners, the Official Rules say that winners will be subject to a security screening and background check to determine their eligibility to dine with the President. Other than that, the Rule for selecting winners for Dinner I reads, simply, "The winners will be determined by a random drawing from all eligible entries to be held at Obama for America Headquarters on July 7, 2011."

The selection Rule for Dinner II is far more complicated. Fifty "potential winners" will be selected in a random drawing at Obama for America Headquarters on October 7. But then "Sponsor" will "select four winners from the list of eligible potential winners" based on "an appropriate range of views, backgrounds, and interests among the winners selected." That's quite different than just selecting four "random" winners. The winners will be notified by Oct. 14, but even that is complicated: "Each winner should follow the instructions and comply with the conditions contained in his/her notification." Further details aren't specified.

What laws govern the contest?
Given that Obama for America has violated the terms of the Official Rules by not notifying the Dinner I winners, it's worth noting that the Rules for both dinners include this bit of information: "The Promotion and these Official Rules will be governed, construed and interpreted under the laws of Illinois, U.S.A. without regard to its or any other jurisdiction's choice of law provisions."

That seems to be because Campaign headquarters are in Chicago. It's definitely not because the Illinois State Board of Elections has anything to do with the Presidential campaign, according to ISBE Campaign Disclosure Specialist Tom Newman, who dubbed the phrase "legalese." Newman said the Federal Election Commission has sole jurisdiction over all the President's re-election efforts. His regulatory body only governs in-state elections.

"I'm not even sure I know what that means," Newman told Obama Foodorama of the phrase in the Official Rules.

Mary Brandenberger, a spokeswoman for the Federal Election Commission, said that while she couldn't "comment on a specific situation" (that would be Dinners I and II), "the Federal Election Commission does not regulate the rules of fundraising contests." So apparently Obama for America is free to not announce the winners of the Dinner I and Dinner II contests under federal campaign law.

But the Rules for both Dinners say that winners will be notified by a certain date. The Rules for Dinner I also say that the names of the winners will be posted on the website: "For a copy of the winner list, visit winners." But this link takes users to, which is a donation page to enter the Dinner II sweepstakes.

Brandenberger did note however, that any money donated to the Campaign so a supporter can be included in a sweepstakes drawing is considered a political donation.

How many people entered the Dinner I sweepstakes?
In mid-July, when the Obama campaign team reported their quarterly fund raising efforts as more than $86 million, over $47 million was directly for the Obama for America 2012 campaign, while more than $38 million was for the Democratic National Committee. But Hogan said she didn't know how many people made donations to the campaign specifically so they could be included in the pool of people vying for a seat at President Obama's Dinner I table. E-mails from the President and various OFA staff asked for contributions between $5 and $25.

"We don't divide it [total donations] up by things like this," Hogan said. "There's no way for me to know how much was donated specifically for the dinner."

She also said she didn't know how many people entered the contest without making a donation, which was also an option (it remains an option for Dinner II as well). This lack of information sounds unlikely from a campaign operation that is famous for number crunching on the micro level.

Interested observers should not expect to hear much about the eight citizens the President will dine with: The Presidential dinners, Hogan said, will not be filmed to be used as a campaign tool. But that could change, too. The Official Rules warn that just entering the sweepstakes "constitutes permission to use each winner's name, hometown, likeness and/or prize information, without limitation, for promotional purposes without further permission or compensation." Winners may also be required to sign a consent form for further unlimited, unpaid promotional purposes, according to the Rules.

*The Official Rules for Dinner I are here; the Official Rules for Dinner II are here. If the link no longer works for the Dinner I rules and you'd like a copy, e-mail Obama Foodorama at and we'll send it along. (Above: One of the graphics created for"Dinner with Barack and Joe")

*Top: Official White House photo of President Obama and Vice President Biden by Pete Souza, taken on July 16, 2011 in the Oval Office.

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