OFA's Smoot Is a Walking Conflict of Interest
Julianna Smoot is a heavy-hitter in Obama's political world. Chief fundraiser for Obama's 2008 campaign, Smoot served a stint as social secretary at the White House during Obama's first term. In 2012, she was deputy campaign manager for Obama's successful reelection. Today, she holds two roles critical to Obama's second-term agenda. She is on the board of Organizing for Action, the non-profit outgrowth of Obama's campaign. She is also on the board of Senate Majority PAC, a super pac dedicated to supporting Senate Democrats. She is a walking conflict of interest.
Organizing for Action is a non-profit, 501 c(4) organization. As such, OFA is prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. Breitbart reporter Michael Patrick Leahy has detailed many of the legal questions raised in the group's formation.
The Obama team's brazen attempt to convert the assets of its political campaign into assets to promote the President's political agenda and the electoral fortunes of his Democratic allies is unprecedented in American political history. It is clearly a violation of the intent of current federal election laws.
It also flies in the face of at least the spirit of the law regarding non-profit organizations. Groups organized under the 501c section of the tax code can raise unlimited funds from donors who can remain anonymous. As "social welfare" organizations, these groups can engage the public on issues, but must stay out of electoral or partisan politics.
OFA's claim of non-profit status has raised eyebrows, even among journalists at the left-wing Politico:
OFA is the offshoot of Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign that has pledged to be non-partisan but is controlling Obama’s Twitter account and advocating for White House priorities including gun control and immigration.
Other former Obama campaign and White House veterans are also working for OFA, but group officials — and Obama — have repeatedly said the new group’s mission is clear and distinct from electoral politics because it’s organized around issues.
'OFA is organized around issues rather than 2014,' Obama told House Republicans at a meeting last month.
Smoot is the walking embodiment of these concerns. Beside her leadership role in OFA, she is a fundraiser and board member of the Senate Majority PAC, a super pac whose express purpose is electing Democrats.
Smoot said she sees no problem with doing both jobs.
'I’m passionate about both groups. I’m a Democrat, so I want to make sure Democrats keep the majority in the Senate,”'she said in a wide-ranging interview.
'And with [OFA], I want to help in ways that don’t conflict,' she said. 'I feel very strongly about both of them.'
At least Smoot acknowledges that there is a potential conflict between her dual roles. As a board member to both groups, Smoot will make decisions regarding each group's strategy, priorities and allocation of resources. While OFA may be organized around issues, will it put greater emphasis in those states where Democrats face election challenges next year? Will she recuse herself from decisions on OFA activities in states where she is also raising money for Democrat incumbents?
Obama's true legacy is a blurring of the traditional political lines and the creation of a permanent campaign infrastructure. Julianna Smoot is the personification of that trend.
Follow Mike Flynn on twitter: @Flynn1776