Organizing For Action Is ‘Selling Access to Obama’
February 27, 2013 - 12:44 pm
As Mark Murray, NBC News Senior Political Editor, said yesterday on NewsNation with Tamron Hall, Organizing for Action is selling access to the president, depending on how much you donate to the organization. So much for campaigning on the platform of reducing the influence of special interests in Washington, Mr. President.
As Nicholas Confessore wrote in the New York Times on February 22:
President Obama’s political team is fanning out across the country in pursuit of an ambitious goal: raising $50 million to convert his re-election campaign into a powerhouse national advocacy network, a sum that would rank the new group as one of Washington’s biggest lobbying operations. But the rebooted campaign, known as Organizing for Action, has plunged the president and his aides into a campaign finance limbo with few clear rules, ample potential for influence-peddling, and no real precedent in national politics.
In private meetings and phone calls, Mr. Obama’s aides have made clear that the new organization will rely heavily on a small number of deep-pocketed donors, not unlike the “super PACs” whose influence on political campaigns Mr. Obama once deplored. At least half of the group’s budget will come from a select group of donors who will each contribute or raise $500,000 or more, according to donors and strategists involved in the effort.
Unlike a presidential campaign, Organizing for Action has been set up as a tax-exempt “social welfare group.” That means it is not bound by federal contribution limits, laws that bar White House officials from soliciting contributions, or the stringent reporting requirements for campaigns. In their place, the new group will self-regulate.
The goal is to harness those resources in support of Mr. Obama’s second-term policy priorities, including efforts to curb gun violence and climate change and overhaulimmigration procedures. Those efforts began Friday, when thousands of Obama supporters were deployed through more than 80 Congressional districts around the country to rally outside lawmakers’ offices, hold vigils and bombard Congress with e-mails and phone calls urging members to support stricter background checks for gun buyers.
“There are wins we can have on guns and immigration,” Jon Carson, the group’s new executive director, told prospective donors on a conference call on Wednesday, according to people who participated. “We have to change the conventional wisdom on those issues.”
But those contributions will also translate into access, according to donors courted by the president’s aides. Next month, Organizing for Action will hold a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, where donors paying $50,000 each will mingle with Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Mr. Carson, who previously led the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.
Many traditional advocacy organizations, including the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, are set up as social welfare groups, or 501(c)(4)’s in tax parlance. But unlike those groups, Organizing for Action appears to be an extension of the administration, stocked with alumni of Mr. Obama’s White House and campaign teams and devoted solely to the president’s second-term agenda.
Organizing for Action said it would accept unlimited personal and corporate contributions, but no money from political action committees, lobbyists or foreign citizens. Officials said they would focus — for now — on grass-roots organizing, amplified by Internet advertising. Friday’s “day of action” involved half a million dollars’ worth of targeted Internet ads and events in Florida, Maine, Pennsylvania and California, among other states.
So, corporations giving unlimited amounts of money to an organization dedicated to moving forward the president’s second term agenda isn’t lobbying? Ok, I got that now.
Murray added that they haven’t really received much of a response from OFA, but noted that all donations will be reported. Nevertheless, it’s an overt contradiction to his hope and change narrative, and his promise not to give access to big donors. Murray concluded that “this is something that his campaign rhetoric doesn’t really match up with this particular outside group.”
Yesterday, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein reported that Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, said:
OFA, which you are asking about, is an independent organization that, as reported in the press, will engage in advocacy and grassroots mobilization activities around public policy issues. It will not be engaged in political campaign-related activities. It has been organized to rally support of the president’s policy agenda but is a separate organization. Administration officials routinely interact with outside advocacy organizations and this has been true in prior administrations.
On the broader issue of money in politics generally, the president has been very clear that we should be doing more to reduce the role of money in politics. The president and Democrats on the Hill have backed, and back, the DISCLOSE Act that would close loopholes and bring more transparency to the system, but it was blocked by Republicans.
Right, when you’re caught in a blatant flip-flop over money in politics, it’s always good to blame the Republicans. Also, to say that OFA “will engage in advocacy and grassroots mobilization activities around public policy issues. It will not be engaged in political campaign-related activities,” is disingenuous, and beyond absurd. The LA Times reported that OFA is targeting “four California Republican House members are among 13 GOP legislators being targeted by a pro-Obama advocacy group in a new online ad campaign urging them to back a more robust background check system for gun sales.” This wouldn’t be controversial, except for the fact that the core of OFA is made up of Obama’s political team.
Stein added that:
Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for OFA, emailed over the following comment:
OFA was founded to support the president’s agenda and the engine of this organization is and will continue to be our grassroots engagement and support. Unlike some other issue-based groups, we have voluntarily elected to disclose all donors and will refuse donations from federally registered lobbyists. Supporters have shown interest in taking a part in OFA because they believe in the president’s agenda. No one has been promised access to the president.
So, “giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House” is not “access?” Furthermore, who cares if you disclose all your donors? Does Ms. Hagan want a gold star for that? OFA still accepts ”unlimited personal and corporate contributions,” which candidate Obama said was detrimental to our political system.
In all, the Obama administration is lying, and they’re very good at it.