The Washington Post reports:
David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser who was President Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, accepted a $100,000 speaking fee in 2010 from an affiliate of a company doing business with Iran’s government.
A subsidiary of MTN Group, a South Africa-based telecommunications company, paid Plouffe for two speeches he made in Nigeria in December 2010, about a month before he joined the White House staff.
Since Plouffe’s speeches, MTN Group has come under intensified scrutiny from U.S. authorities because of its activities in Iran and Syria, which are under international sanctions intended to limit the countries’ access to sensitive technology. At the time of Plouffe’s speeches, MTN had been in a widely reported partnership for five years with a state-owned Iranian telecommunications firm.
There were no legal or ethical restrictions on Plouffe being paid to speak to the MTN subsidiary as a private citizen. But for a close Obama aide to have accepted payment from a company involved in Iran could prove troublesome for the president as the White House toughens its stance toward the Islamic republic. In recent weeks, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney has accused the administration of being soft on Iran.
“Today’s story raises serious questions about Barack Obama’s senior adviser traveling to Nigeria weeks before he joined the West Wing to give a speech with a company actively engaged with and profiting from the oppressive policies of the Iranian regime,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski in a statement.”David Plouffe may be the biggest loophole in the international community’s sanctions against Iran.”
The Obama campaign pushed back against the story, and attacked Mitt Romney. “Mitt Romney is the same candidate who failed to keep his promise to get rid of any investments in companies that do business with Iran — his trust remained invested in these companies for years after his pledge to divest,” said Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt in a statement. “Mitt Romney had a financial interest in Turkcell which is attempting to advance its business interest in Iran. We’re happy to have a debate over what clients Mitt Romney’s advisors have chosen to advise – from human rights abusers to Chinese oil companies – but what is more significant is Romney’s own failure to keep his word when it came to Iran divestment.”
Of course, Romney is not in the West Wing and not in a position to influence policy on Iran right now.