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Obama White House defends Web video pitch

In advance of Thursday's second-quarter fundraising deadline, Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina yesterday sent this message to the millions on President Obama's email list:

Watch the President's video, and then donate $5 or more to be automatically entered for the chance to have dinner with him.

In the video, the president announces that Joe Biden will join him at the dinner. "I’ve got a pretty big announcement about that contest the campaign is running where you can join me for dinner. We’re setting another place at the table for Joe Biden."

The potential trouble: The Web video was shot from the White House, and as ReaClearPolitics reports, it's against the law -- for the president or any federal government employee -- to solicit funds from "any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties."

It shall be unlawful for an individual who is an officer of employee of the Federal Government, including the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by an officer or employee of the United States, from any person.

The White House makes three arguments defending the Web video, which it says was shot by the Democratic National Committee. One, it says it's NOT a fundraising solicitation. "This is not a fundraising solicitation in any way shape or form," an official tells First Read. "We don't solicit funds from the White House."

When pressed that the email from Messina asks for a donation of $5 or more, the official responds, "But you don't have to give to win. The raffle is a raffle. If you give, you're entered, but you can enter without giving."

Two, the White House maintains that raising money from the White House isn't illegal -- what is illegal is raising it from particular rooms where business is conducted. "We are allowed to actually fundraise from certain rooms, but this administration has chosen not to," the official adds.

And three, the White House argues that previous presidents -- including George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan -- have used certain White House rooms as a backdrop for fundraising pitches.

Mary Boyle, the vice president for communications at the good-government group Common Cause, contends that the Web video ISN'T analogous to raising money from the Lincoln Bedroom. "It's encouraging small-dollar contributions, something we think is important."

Boyle's bigger beef is with Obama's March meeting with big donors in the White House's Blue Room. "It was disappointing to see... It has the appearance that these are donors who are getting special treatment, because they have a lot of money."

"It all goes back to our broken campaign system," Boyle adds. "This is what you've got to do to raise money."