Obama Campaign Bans Cell Phones at Private Fundraisers

The reelection campaign faces flak after donors at a $35,000 a plate dinner were asked to check their devices at the door.

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Mandel Ngan/Getty

US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign fundraiser May 14, 2012 at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City.

So it’s come to this. The Obama campaign has reportedly banned cell phones at small fundraisers held in private homes. The measure, presumably, is being taken to avoid any gaffes that might damage the president’s 2012 re-election hopes.

The phenomenon was first reported by the Washington Post‘s David Nakamura, who described how guests who paid $35,800 to meet the President at the New York City home of Blackstone Group COO Hamilton “Tony” James on Monday were asked to drop their phones in a plastic bag at the door. Here’s the scene setter by Nakamura, as quoted by ABC:

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.

There would be no live Tweeting, uploading to YouTube, or Instagraming that evening. An anonymous campaign aide described the practice as “standard operating procedure for the fundraisers at private residences,” although, as Buzzfeed reported, “veterans of a range of other campaigns said they’d never heard of the practice.”

Perhaps a paranoid move on the part of the Obama campaign, but they have some reason to worry. The then-candidate’s off-the-cuff comments about rural voters (“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion…”), captured on video at a San Francisco fundraising event in 2008, bedeviled Obama for the rest of his campaign. And the ubiquity of smart phones — which can take photos, record video and audio and send them instantaneously out to the world — has only increased since the last race.

(MORE: Obama’s “Bitter” Bungle: Top 10 Obama Gaffes)

According to a Romney campaign spokesperson, the presumptive GOP candidate has no plans to institute a similar ban. And Obama’s opponents aren’t wasting time pressing their advantage on the issue. “What is he hiding? Candidates should be for and against the same issue in private as they are in public,” Rob Johnson, a former campaign manager for Texas governor Rick Perry, told Buzzfeed. “In addition to religion and guns,” he added, “voters like to cling to their cell phones.”