The White House is strenuously denying that Organizing for Action, President Obama’s former re-election campaign that morphed into a nonprofit group, is selling access to the president despite the group’s own coy implications and his cooperation with it.
While the group does not guarantee that donors will receive regular visits from Mr. Obama and other administration officials, it has said the president and other administration officials will periodically stop by its events to give updates on progress on top agenda items.
In fact, Mr. Obama on Wednesday will speak to the advocacy group’s “founders’ summit,” a two-day event for donors and supporters at a Washington hotel.
According to the New York Times, donors are paying $50,000 to attend the event and hear from the president, along with Jim Messina, OFA’s chairman and former Obama campaign manager, and Jon Carson, the group’s executive director who formerly served as the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
Two months after the presidential campaign ended, Mr. Messina transformed the campaign committee into a tax-exempt group aimed at supporting Mr. Obama’s second-term agenda and countering a similar group that top Republican strategist Karl Rove has run during the last two election cycles.
Organizing for Action had nearly $5 million left over from the campaign to use, but this week’s event in Washington marks it’s first real fundraiser. The group has sent out previous emails requesting supporters donate online.
Government watchdog groups were already lamenting the president’s decision to accept unlimited corporate donations to fund his inauguration celebration. They were doubly disappointed when Mr. Messina announced the creation of a new tax-exempt group that is so closely associated with the president and can raise unlimited sums from donors as long as it uses the money to promote policy.
Pushing back against the idea that OFA is nothing more than a private version of the White House, Mr. Carney on Monday said Mr. Obama’s decision to meet with the group’s donors was no different than when the president discusses his policy agenda with the Democratic National Committee or groups that fundraise for the party’s congressional candidates.
“The president’s out there pushing for his agenda,” Mr. Carney said. “And he obviously believes that an organization like this is both helpful and appropriate in engaging the American people, engaging those Americans who support this agenda in a way that helps move the process forward.”
Under intense questioning from reporters about OFA’s mission, Mr. Carney dismissed arguments that the group is inherently partisan and political in its goal of supporting the president’s policy agenda.
“It will not take a position in elections; it’s focused on policy issues,” Mr. Carney said, mentioning immigration reform, deficit reduction and gun control as three agenda items the group as promoted so far. “The president’s policy agenda, which Organizing for Action has been designed to promote, consists of item after item that have had bipartisan support in the past, that should have bipartisan support in the future.”
After the New York Times ran a critical story about OFA, last week Mr. Messina wrote an op-ed arguing that the group could not guarantee access to White House officials and said they would not accept corporate donations.
“Whether you’re a volunteer or a donor, we can’t and we won’t guarantee access to government officials,” he wrote. “But just as the president and the administration officials deliver updates on the legislative process to Americans and organizations across the ideological spectrum, there may be occasions when members of Organizing for Action are included in these updates. These are not opportunities to lobby — they are briefings on the positions the president has taken and the status of seeing them through.”
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
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