WHCA Candidates Accused of ‘Garbage Campaigning’


The July 15 race for the at-large seat of the White House Correspondents’ Association is reaching a fevered pitch. The race has gotten so competitive that all three candidates — Politico‘s Carol Lee, Bloomberg’s Hans Nichols and WSJ‘s Laura Meckler — are being accused of a ballot box stuffing form of campaigning.

An e-mail letter circulating the past few days from the Washington Examiner‘s White House correspondent and WHCA at-large board member Julie Mason says all three candidates have been making sure that reporters and editors from their own publications get signed up for the WHCA to garner more votes.

Among those who have signed up in the course of the election: Bloomberg’s Al Hunt is now a member, as are Politico’s top Editors, Jim VandeHei and John Harris. WSJ‘s Gerald Seib is also now a member.

Sources tell FishbowlDC that each candidate has signed up several new WHCA members during this election. According to those familiar with the WHCA, the organization is supposed to be for grunty White House reporters who need a larger entity to give them a voice — not those they charge will do little more than give their own reporter a vote. Sources have also told FishbowlDC that all of the candidates have their downsides — with at least two of the candidates — Nichols and Meckler — having personality deficits that would make them unpalatable to voters.

Nichols had no comment, but instead this automatic e-mail response: “I am out today. Please contact White House editor Joe Sobczyk if it’s urgent.”

Meckler said she didn’t start the practice of encouraging journalists to sign up until she saw other candidates doing it: “I think membership in the WHCA should be limited to people who actually cover the White House,” she wrote in a statement to FishbowlDC. “However, in recent days and weeks, the membership requirements evidently have been relaxed, and many editors and others from Bloomberg and Politico were cleared for membership in the association. I reluctantly concluded that to say competitive in the race, I should inquire whether editors and others at my news organization who are involved in White House coverage were interested in joining the association, and a handful of them joined in the last day or so. I only did this after seeing that others had done it first, and I sincerely wish that none of this had occurred. It’s a huge waste of time and energy.”

Lee, in an e-mail: “Everyone who works at Politico and is a member of the Correspondents’ Association covers the White House, either as an editor or a reporter. The association has a process for approving members and renewing dues, and they went through that process.”

The e-mail written by Mason, who has two years remaining on the board, has been circulating around the bureaus. In it, she expresses her distaste for the campaign…

Subject line: Attn. Candidates

Laura Meckler is dropping off a batch of applications for new members at the WHCA, so they can vote for her in this election. You have all done some variation of this — to my mind, gaming the system and loading up the membership with non-White House people to improve your chances in this election. I think it’s bogus — if you can’t compete within our existing membership, then you shouldn’t run.

It’s taking advantage of a loophole we intended to benefit full-time White House correspondents, in order to get an electoral advantage. It’s unsportsmanlike, and disrespectful of the entire point of the WHCA, which you all aspire to lead.

It ends with this latest round of sign-ups — by decision of the membership committee.

The opinions expressed here are just mine, but obviously I feel very strongly. This really is garbage campaigning.

Julie Mason