- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2013

President Obama’s campaign has transformed itself into a tax-exempt organization aimed at supporting his second-term agenda and countering a similar group that top Republican strategist Karl Rove has run during the last two election cycles.

Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, has turned the Obama for America campaign operation into a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, an Obama campaign operative confirmed.

The new organization, dubbed Organizing for Action, a play on the initials of the Obama for America campaign, is similar to Crossroads GPS, a spin-off of the super PAC fundraising machine Mr. Rove, President George W. Bush’s top political adviser, created three years ago.

In launching the new group, Mr. Obama sent an email to supporters announcing announcing it with the subject line: “Say you’re in.”

“Following the footsteps of the campaign you built, Organizing for Action will be an unparallelled force in American politics,” he wrote. “It will work to turn our shared values into legislative action — and it’ll empower the next generation of leaders in our movement.”

The email linked to a video of first lady Michelle Obama thanking supporters for the work to get Mr. Obama elected and asking them to get involved in the next phase of the “our movement for change.” It did not include a request for a donation, only a button to click to provide a name, email and zip code.

The mission of the new group, she said, will be to “build on the work we’ve already done by training and empowering the next generation of leaders and supporting the grassroots organizing you want to do on the issues that matter most to your community and to our country.”

In a different fundraising pitch last week, Mr. Messina seemed to indicate that the group would be much more of a top-down organization designed to help pass Mr. Obama’s agenda and secure his legacy than helping communities across the country organize around local issues. He told supporters he would discuss how the use of millions of dollars in leftover campaign cash at an “Obama Legacy Conference” this weekend during inauguration events. There are restrictions on the inauguration committee using money raised during the campaign.

Mr. Obama is the first president in history to continue fundraising for his campaign after the election was over — at least since the late 1970s when the newly established  Federal Election Commission started keeping records of such things.

Since Election Day, Obama for America has produced at least two web videos showcasing the president’s record and including “donate” buttons users can click.

Although most of the staffers have gone on to other jobs, the campaign still holds onto one of its most valuable asset — lists of millions of emails of supporters and volunteers, which the new organization can use to help mobilize grassroots support for the president’s agenda.

Vice President Joe Biden earlier this week hinted at the creation of the new organization by saying he and the president could rely on campaign resources to help generate public support for the administration’s new package of gun control proposals.

As a 501(c)4 organization, the transformed Obama campaign will operate independently of Priorities USA, the pro-Obama super PAC that tried to compete with Republican-aligned groups that collected millions of dollars in unlimited contributions to support Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign for president.

Even though it was run by former Obama aides and had the backing of former President Bill Clinton, Priorities USA struggled to attract multimillion dollar donations. Bill Burton, one of two co-founders, just joined the Democratic-leaning public affairs firm Global Strategy Group.

All told, Priorities USA spent at least $66 million on attack ads, much of it paid for by a small group of investors, trial lawyers and labor unions. But the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, spent $143 million with American Crossroads, which supported Mr. Romney and Republican candidates generally, spending another $176 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Government watchdogs groups were already lamenting the president’s decision to accept unlimited corporate donations to fund his inauguration celebration. The creation of Mr. Messina’s new tax-exempt group, combined with what critics call Mr. Obama’s previous flip-flops on limiting special interest influence  in Washington, has left many watchdogs wary.

“The creation of a nonprofit group with close ties to the president after he has made a pitch to corporations for funds could raise some eyebrows on how donations from corporations might influence federal policy,” said Public Citizen’s Lisa Gilbert. “It’s a red flag when it comes to influence.”

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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