Out­sider hired for Obama speeches on tax­payer dime

The Washington Times Weekly - - Pol­i­tics - BY JIM MCEL­HAT­TON

On top of the more than half a mil­lion dol­lars it spends on speechwr iters, the White House is us­ing tens of thou­sands of tax­payer dol­lars on a pub­lic re­la­tions firm headed by Demo­cratic im­age maker Michael Shee­han, once dubbed by Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton as an “ex­traor­di­nar y me­dia coach” who helped her mas­ter the teleprompter.

Mr. Shee­han’s firm, Shee­han As­so­ci­ates, could re­ceive more than $100,000 un­der a cur­rent con­tract and has been pro­vid­ing oc­ca­sional speech and con­sult­ing ser­vices to the White House since 2009, fed­eral pur­chas­ing records show.

Al­though Mr. Shee­han has a rep­u­ta­tion of help­ing politi­cians look good speak­ing in pub­lic, nei­ther his firm nor its White House client has any­thing to say about the con­tract­ing ar­range­ment. Shee­han As­so­ci­ates failed to re­spond to tele­phone and email in­quir ies about the hir­ing ar­range­ment last week and the week be­fore that, as did the White House press of­fice.

Spend­ing records show that the com­pany was hired un­der three con­tracts since late 2009 and has re­ceived a to­tal of $60,000. The records var­i­ously de­scribe the com­pany as pro­vid­ing “speech prepa­ra­tion train­ing,” “speech writ­ing ser­vices” and “speech coach­ing ser­vices.”

It’s un­clear what speeches the firm was as­signed, but its hir­ing marks the sec­ond time that the White House has paid for out­side pub­lic re­la­tions help. It ap­proved con­tract work for up to $100,000 for Jeff Nuss­baum, a speech­writ­ing aide to vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joseph R. Bi­den dur­ing the 2008 elec­tion cam­paign, The Washington Times re­ported last year.

At the time, a spokesman for Mr. Bi­den, Jay Car­ney, who has since been pro­moted to White House press sec­re­tary, told The Times that Mr. Nuss­baum’s hir­ing was per­mit­ted un­der the sole-source pro­vi­sion of fed­eral con­tract­ing rules.

Weeks be­fore taking of­fice, Mr. Obama and Mr. Bi­den pledged to end abuse of no-bid con­tract­ing and re­quire com- pe­t­i­tive bid­ding on nearly all con­tract or­ders for more than $25,000.

How­ever, Mr. Car­ney said at the time that Mr. Nuss­baum was able to “pro­vide unique ser­vices where no other per­son can ful­fill the con­tract re­quire­ments” and

Mr. Shee­han’s firm, Shee­han As­so­ci­ates, could re­ceive more than $100,000 un­der a cur­rent con­tract and has been pro­vid­ing oc­ca­sional speech and con­sult­ing ser vices to the White House since 2009, fed­eral pur­chas­ing records show. The records show that the com­pany was hired un­der three con­tracts since late 2009 and has re­ceived a to­tal of $60,000. The records var­i­ously de­scribe the com­pany as pro­vid­ing “speech prepa­ra­tion train­ing,” “speech writ­ing ser vices” and “speech coach­ing ser vices.”

the White House needed ex­tra speech­writ­ing help. He said Mr. Nuss­baum wrote up to six “im­por­tant and sub­stan­tial” speeches each month.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2010 pay­roll re­port, the White House em­ploys seven speechwr iters earn­ing a com­bined $624,200. The team is led by Jonathan E. Favreau, the di­rec­tor of speech­writ­ing, who earns $172,200, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which was re­leased by the White House. Two other se­nior pres­i­den­tial speech­writ­ers are paid $100,000 each. A pair of pres­i­den­tial speech­writ­ers are paid $75,000 each, and a speech­writer and speech­writ­ing as­sis­tant earn $60,000 and $42,000, re­spec­tively.

The Obama White House isn’t alone in look­ing for out­side speech­writ­ers. The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2007 ap­proved a $25,000 sole-source speech­writ­ing con­tract for Matthew Scully, who pre­vi­ously worked as a spe­cial as­sis­tant and deputy di­rec­tor of pres­i­den­tial speechwr it­ing in the Bush White House.

David Wil­liams, pres­i­dent of the non­profit Tax­pay­ers Pro­tec­tion Al­liance, said the White House should ex­plain why it needs out­side pub­lic re­la­tions help at a time when ev­ery dol­lar counts.

“You find an ex­cuse to be trans­par­ent,” he said.

Mr. Shee­han hasn’t made a se­cret of his work for Mr. Obama. A pic­ture on his firm’s web­site fea­tures Mr. Obama and Mr. Shee­han talk­ing to­gether. The fir m also lists among its “me­dia hits” prom­i­nent men­tions of Mr. Shee­han in books, in­clud­ing “Liv­ing His­tory” by Mrs. Clin­ton.

“I seized upon the vil­lage theme, and we swiftly drafted the speech around it,” she wrote. “Then I went to the tiny room in the base­ment of the United Cen­ter for one last re­hearsal with Michael Shee­han, an ex­tra­or­di­nary me­dia coach who made Her­culean ef­forts to teach me to use the teleprompter, which I had never worked with be­fore and couldn’t seem to mas­ter.”

In a Fe­bruar y, the Daily Beast, a news web­site, re­ported that Mr. Shee­han pre­ferred to down­play his work with Mr. Obama, but quoted him on what it’s like to work with the pres­i­dent: “I get more done with him in two hours than I would with others in eight,” he said.

Mr. Obama is well known for his use of the teleprompter. He made light of it dur ing his speech at the White House Cor­re­spon­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion din­ner on April 30 with a spoof movie trailer about life for Mr. Obama if he lost fund­ing for his teleprompter.

The Shee­han As­so­ci­ates web­site says that since 1988, Mr. Shee­han “has been called upon to coach” ev­ery pres­i­den­tial and vice-pres­i­den­tial de­bate as well as fea­tured speak­ers at the Demo­cratic con­ven­tions.

“For the Obama and Clin­ton administrations alike, he has coached In­au­gu­ral ad­dresses, States of the Union, prime time ad­dresses and press con­fer­ences,” the site says.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TOGRAPHS

He talks, you pay: Pres­i­dent Obama

Michael Shee­han has been called an “ex­tra­or­di­nary me­dia coach. His firm, Shee­han As­so­ci­ates, was hired by the White House un­der three con­tracts since late 2009 and has re­ceived a to­tal of $60,000, spend­ing records show.

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