On Saturday, the New York Times reported that Organizing for Action–the Obama for America presidential campaign structure recently re-organized as a 501 c 4 tax-exempt “issues advocacy” non-profit–is offering access to President Obama to any donors (individuals or corporations) who contribute $500,000 to the group. According to the Times, such contributions place “donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and [gives them] the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House.”
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.
The Obama team is betting that they’ve cleverly discovered a loophole, one that Republicans will fail to challenge legally. Even if the legality of this unprecedented and highly political attempt to circumvent the intent of federal election law is challenged, Obama’s team is further betting that their attorneys will argue their case successfully before regulators and judges. To date, the Obama tactic has caught Republicans flat footed.
Not only is the conversion of questionable legality, it also is in absolute contradiction to everything President Obama has ever said about the negative influence of large financial donations on the political process in America. In 2010, for instance, when the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision paved the way for SuperPACs that could accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations alike, President Obama was one of the Court’s harshest critics. But the President’s opinion on the evils of unlimited donations to political organizations–especially those that pretend to be “issues advocacy” groups–appears to have changed in the three years since that decision.
The expensive and valuable assets of Obama for America were quickly made available to Organizing for Action, which has already begun to use them extensively in Obama’s “permanent campaign,” hosting State of the Union listening parties and bombarding the internet with pro gun control emails. It is unclear if the new Organizing for Action entity has paid fair market value–or anything at all, for that matter–to the old Obama for America organization for these assets.
The assets include a sophisticated state-of-the-art analytics driven data base that holds extensive information on each of 2 million Obama for America volunteers, 17 million email subscribers, 22 million Twitter followers, and virtually every registered voter in the country. These assets will deployed by the same management team that ran Obama for America, headed up by former campaign manager Jim Messina. At Organizing for Action, Messina will use the technological infrastructure developed over several years at Obama for America to instantaneously deliver communications in multiple formats (email, text, facebook, tweets) using the same methodology to the same vast audience that received those very similar messages during President Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“Issues advocacy” social welfare non-profit groups organized under Section 501 c 4 of the Internal Revenue Service code, which Organizing for Action claims to be, are not subject to the same federal election laws that prohibit corporate donations and limit individual contributions to political candidates to $2,600 per election. In its new iteration, the organization that was until January 17, 2013 known as Obama for America and was governed by these strict campaign laws can now accept unlimited donations from both corporations and individuals. Better yet, it is not required to publicly disclose the names of these donors.
All this is happening while the Organizing for Action management team–and the Obama administration–are pretending and saying out loud with a straight face that it is not a political organization. In reality, it is nothing but a political organization, and its immediate purpose is to advance the President’s second term agenda and defeat Republican House and Senate candidates in 2014. With that accomplished, and Democrats in control of both the House and Senate there will be nothing to stop President Obama and his radical left wing agenda.
Even MSNBC’s Chuck Todd found the cash for access scheme unpalatable. “This just looks bad,” Todd said on Monday. “It looks,” Todd said “like the White House is selling access.It’s the definition of selling access. If you believe money has a strangle hold over the entire political system this is ceding the moral high ground.”
Todd is right. It looks bad because it is bad.
Bob Edgar, the president of the usually liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, agrees with Todd. “It just smells. The president is setting a very bad model setting up this organization,”he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney tried to sell the administration line that Organizing for Action is just like any other 501 c 4, and this sort of thing is done all the time to the usually compliant White House press corps on Monday, but most of them could barely withhold their incredulity at Carney’s claims. Indeed, Carney became so frustrated at their skepticism that he abruptly curtailed the normal press briefing and walked off unceremoniously as unanswered questioned were left hanging in the air.