What the government paid for was Secret Service protection.
Were there equivalent headlines for what taxpayers paid when members of Obama's family traveled to do things that were not the work of government — vacations, career-boosting internships, political fundraisers and rallies?
WaPo wafts the notion that traveling for business is different because one makes money doing business. The wafting is done through a quote from a law professor:
“This is an example of the blurring of the line between the personal interest in the family business and the government,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis....As an erstwhile law professor, I'm fascinated by the use of law professors to give heft to wafting theories. There's no way to know how many law professors WaPo queried before getting this quote from Clark. A cynically educated guess would be 17.** And I'm fascinated by the ability of law professors to seem to say something useful to the theory being wafted without really saying much of anything at all. Note the phrases "blurring of the line" — no line is crossed or even located — and "raises the specter" — which doesn't even acknowledge that there's an issue. A "specter" is a ghost.
“There is a public benefit to providing Secret Service protection,” Clark said. “But what was the public benefit from State Department personnel* participating in this private business trip to the coastal town? It raises the specter of the use of public resources for private gain.”
In other Secret Service news, "Malia Obama parties into the early morning in NYC":
The former first daughter attended a starry HBO “Girls” premiere, then went dancing into the early hours of the morning...._______________________
We were told that “Secret Service agents were all over the place” at the party, but they managed to blend into the crowd of more than 600 guests.
* The Secret Service is not located in the State Department — it's in the Department of Homeland Security — but the money for the Secret Service's hotel rooms was paid through the State Department. The State Department and the Secret Service refused to talk to WaPo about why the money came from the State Department. Is it the usual source of funding when the trip is outside of the homeland? WaPo doesn't explain. It just leaves us with the lawprof's wafting, which blends the spectral problem of the State Department source of funding with the question how it benefits the public to protect members of the President's family. Is that really something we wonder about?
** [ADDED at 8:33] I'm less cynical now, because I just happened to be researching a completely different government ethics question — whether Bill and Hillary Clinton stole furniture from the White House — and the government ethics expert quoted in the fact-checking article I found was Kathleen Clark:
[O]ne Steve Mittman from New York gave [Bill Clinton] two sofas, an easy chair and ottoman worth $19,900... [Mittman said he thought he was] donating to the White House itself as part a major remodeling project in 1993....
[T]he White House had retained an interior decorator who, according to the report, coordinated 43 of the 45 furniture gifts received over the Clintons’ eight years.
Kathleen Clark focuses on government ethics law at Washington University in St. Louis. For her, that interior decorator raised a flag. "I don’t know how you coordinate gifts without soliciting them," Clark said....There's a ban on soliciting gifts, so the solicitation would be evidence that the furniture was not a personal gift to the Clintons.
"Calling the Clintons’ actions ‘stealing’ or ‘theft’ is hyperbolic," Clark said. "It’s hard to take that language seriously in this context."I didn't find it hard! Clark is the one who made me see that the furniture must have been a gift to the White House and not personally to the Clintons. She said it must have been solicited. The only way it's "hyperbolic" to call it stealing is if you expect us to modify language to coddle and insulate politicians. It's not hyperbole to defeat that expectation. It's clear speech — my #1 cause on this blog.