No open door: White House denies selling access to President Obama to wealthy supporters

The White House refuted a report Monday that President Obama’s former campaign team is selling access to him for wealthy donors who contribute at least $500,000 to a newly organized advocacy group pushing his liberal agenda.

White House press secretary Jay Carney offered a flat “no” when asked by reporters if donors to the group Organizing for Action — a spinoff of Obama for America — would be rewarded with quarterly meetings with Mr. Obama in exchange for their hefty contributions to the tax-exempt group.

“Of course not,” Mr. Carney said “The president is engaged in an effort to pass items on his agenda. And outside organizations that support that agenda … like organizations that support his manufacturing agenda, administration officials can meet with them. This is an independent organization.”

The White House may call OFA “independent,” but it’s a thinly veiled outgrowth of Mr. Obama’s reelection campaign. It was created immediately after the election by people such as Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, to build grassroots support for the president’s second-term agenda, such as gun control and immigration reform.

OFA’s executive director, Jon Carson, formerly ran the White House office of public engagement. Its spokeswoman, Katie Hogan, was a deputy press secretary for Mr. Obama’s reelection campaign.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that wealthy donors who give $500,000 or more to OFA can join the group’s “national advisory board,” which allows them to attend quarterly meetings with the president and other meetings at the White House.

Mr. Carson told the Times that the group’s goal is “to “change the conventional wisdom” on issues such as climate change, guns, and immigration.

Pressed by reporters about the group’s access to the president, Mr. Carney insisted OFA will be treated like any other advocacy group.

“It has been organized to rally support for the president’s policy agenda, but is a separate organization,” Mr. Carney said. “Administration officials routinely interact with outside advocacy organizations, and this has been true in prior administrations. White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action, and while they may appear at appropriate OFA events in their official capacities, they will not be raising money.”

The connection is particularly uncomfortable for the White House in light of Mr. Obama’s campaign for the presidency in 2008, when he decried the influence of lobbyists and wealthy special interests in Washington.

“They write the checks and you get stuck with the bill,” Mr. Obama said upon announcing his candidacy in February 2007. “They get the access while you get to write a letter. They think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back.”

OFA launched its first online ad campaign last week targeting 13 Republican lawmakers, a nearly six-figure blitz urging them to support universal background checks for gun buyers. Among the lawmakers targeted are Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, C.W. “Bill” Young of Florida and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

The ads appeared the same day OFA organized about 100 events nationwide to show support for the president’s plan to reduce gun violence.

As a 501(c)4 nonprofit group, OFA is not allowed to engage in partisan political activity. But such advocacy groups have considerable leeway to exert pressure on lawmakers on policy matters.

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