- The Washington Times - Monday, January 21, 2013

A leading Republican senator Sunday questioned the decision by President Obama to transform his 2012 campaign organization into a full-time advocacy group.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” suggested the creation of “Organizing for Action” will exacerbate an already fractious atmosphere in Washington.

“I was surprised this week to see him transition his campaign committee into an ongoing campaign style effort to have an impact on the Washington debate,” Mr. Blunt said. “It doesn’t seem to me in the first term that worked out very well.”

The creation of the tax-exempt 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, announced Friday, is designed to leverage the assets of the president’s re-election campaign and counter a similar group set up by top Republican strategist Karl Rove.

Organizing for Action, a play on the initials of the Obama for America campaign, will be headed by Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina.

It is structured similarly to Crossroads GPS, a spinoff of the super PAC fundraising machine that Mr. Rove, former 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 it with the subject line: “Say you’re in.”

“Following the footsteps of the campaign you built, Organizing for Action will be an unparalleled 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 “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.

Mr. Obama is the first president 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 assets — lists of millions of emails of supporters and volunteers, which the new organization can use to help mobilize grass-roots support for the president’s agenda.

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.

Government watchdog 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.”

Charles Spies, a Republican lawyer who ran the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, told the liberal Mother Jones magazine that while the president’s new political action group may be legal, it’s also “breathtakingly hypocritical.”

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

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