David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, took a $100,000 speaking fee from a subsidiary of MTN Group, a telecommunications company that has done business with Iran.
Plouffe accepted payment for two speeches in Nigeria in 2010, before he joined the Obama administration. Since then, the South Africa-based MTN Group has come under scrutiny over a five-year partnership with Irancell, a communications firm owned by the Iranian government, the Washington Post reported.
Though there are no legal or ethical restrictions on Plouffe being paid by the company to speak as a private citizen, the transaction has raised skepticism during an election year.
"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," the Post pointed out.
While Plouffe declined to comment on his connection with the company, White House spokesman Eric Schultz defended the aide, UPI reported.
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"He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications and had no separate meetings with the company's leadership," Schultz said in a statement to the Post. "At the time, not even the most zealous watchdog group on this issue had targeted the Iranian business interests of the host's holding company. Criticism of Mr. Plouffe now for issues and controversies that developed only years later is simply misplaced."
However, the Republican National Committee was quick to criticize the move.
"Today's story raises serious questions," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, Reuters reported. "David Plouffe may be the biggest loophole in the international community's sanctions against Iran."
Mitt Romney has also called the Administration's stance on Iran into question. Last month, during a speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, the Republican candidate accused Obama of having "faltered when the Iranian people were looking for support in their struggle against the ayatollahs," the Hill reported.
"At every turn, Iran must know that the United States and our allies stand as one in these critical objectives," Romney said. "Only in this way can we successfully counter the catastrophic threat that Iran presents. I pledge to you and to all Americans that if I become commander-in-chief, I will use every means necessary to protect ourselves and the region, and to prevent the worst from happening while there is still time."
Obama imposed new economic sanctions on oil exports from Iran, including cutting off Chinese and Iraqi banks accused of doing business with Tehran.
Obama announced that any companies that do business with the National Iranian Oil Company, the Naftiran Intertrade Company, or the Central Bank of Iran will be subject to sanctioning by the US, Agence France Presse reported.