Sure, it sounds like a trick question. Or the setup line for a joke:
Why do ethics cost more in the Obama White House?
- Because they're so hard to find.
But the question is one of many that spring to mind after reviewing the most recent list of White House salaries.
On his first day in office, Obama announced that he would freeze salaries of White House employees making $100,000 or more, and the mainstream media trumpeted the announcement as a supposed example of their hero's fiscal responsibility. The Washington Post even calculated the amount that the "freeze" would save taxpayers: over $443,000 dollars a year. The Post, and the rest of the Obamaton media, portrayed the announcement -- described as Obama's first act in office -- as a symbolic tightening of the belt.
But when Obama got around to actually reporting White House salaries, as required by law, the numbers told a far different story. Instead of tightening his belt, Obama was buying a bigger, fatter, and far more expensive one.
All that media trumpeting about fiscal responsibility amounted to no more than so many noisy, and empty, vuvuzelas.
While even as Obama "froze" salaries for apparatchiks making $100,000 in his first year in office, he was hiring them like he was spending someone else's money -- which, of course, he was. According to the Post's own reporting, President Bush had 130 employees pulling down six-figure salaries in 2008. Obama bumped that number to 147 in 2009. According to the Post's figures, the Bush White House paid their 130 top earners just over $17 million. Obama's White House doled out more than $20 million in $100k+ salaries.
Instead of the Post's supposed $443,000 in savings, Obama's $100k+ hirings were actually an increase of almost three million dollars, a 17% hike, in just Obama's first year, and of twelve million bucks over the course of a four-year term. Of course, the Post did not bother to disclose that detail when the Obama administration made its annual report to Congress.
Obama filed that statutorily-mandated staff salary list as quietly as possible, issuing no new releases -- the political equivalent of sneaking around in the dead of night -- as if he was concerned that his sycophantic press corps might actually interrupt their chanted hosannas and report on it. Thus, what has been reported as Obama's first act in office was at best a cynical shell game designed to deceive the public about his immediate expenses -- a foreshadowing of such outlandish later spending as dates with Michelle in New York and family trips to Paris. Obama shelled out 39,147,222 taxpayer dollars to 487 people in the White House in 2009, according to the annual report to Congress, an 18% one-year increase over the $33,193,021 for 447 employees in the Bush administration's last year. (None of these figures include household staff.) To make matters worse, Obama's hiring binge occurred at the same time he was calling on other federal agencies to freeze spending. At least Obama's first year White House payroll spending spree did allow him to appear to keep personnel spending this year in line, relatively. The current annual report shows that Obama has increased the number of employees making $100k by just three and that, after bloating the budget with so many of them last year, he has seemingly followed through on his pledge to freeze those salaries. Overall, Obama reports "only" 469 White House employees in 2010.
Nevertheless, the Obama White House is paying its personnel $38,796,307 this year, $5.6 million more than President Bush did just two years ago.
Besides increasing the number of higher-paid employees, Obama bloated his payroll with programs which the records show didn't exist under President Bush: approximately $1 million this year to eleven employees involved in "public engagement"; $78,000 to the White House Director of African American Media; $211,800 to two employees of the "Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation."
Public Engagement? Social Innovation and Civic Participation? Maybe "Bagmen for Ward Bosses" would be too direct.
...Which leads us to the curious matter of the amount Obama pays for Ethics.
In 2008, the Bush administration paid four White House Ethics advisors a total of $383,015, whereas the four Ethics advisors in the Obama White House will rake in $491,176 in 2010. Three of those four, according to FEC records, are Obama campaign donors.
Interestingly enough, the Obama administration's 2009 report listed no Ethics advisors...which could go a long way toward explaining their actions. After all, their own reports show that Ethics were completely missing from the White House during Obama's first year in office.
And, no, that's not a joke.
William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author.