President Obama’s campaign-machinery-turned-“advocacy group” got a lot of rather negative attention last week, when the New York Times reported that donors who contribute or raise $500,000 or more for Organizing for Action will be magnanimously granted the high privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House — a.k.a., Organizing for Action will be selling access to the president to the highest bidders.
It would seem that Team Obama took offense at that unfortunate turn of phrasing, and Jim Messina — erstwhile Obama campaign manager and newfound OFA national chairman — was compelled to pen an op-ed defending the new group and announcing a couple of policy changes. Because, you know, they’re so committed to transparency and thwarting special interests, and everything.
The president has always believed that special interests have undue influence over the policymaking process, and the mission of this organization is to rebalance the power structure.
While Organizing for Action is a nonprofit social welfare organization that faces a lower disclosure threshold than a political campaign, we believe in being open and transparent. That’s why every donor who gives $250 or more to this organization will be disclosed on the website with the exact amount they give on a quarterly basis. We have now decided not to accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors.
Supporters of Organizing for Action will dedicate their time to mobilize their friends and neighbors on behalf of the president’s agenda. Whether you’re a volunteer or a donor, we can’t and we won’t guarantee access to any government officials. But just as the president and 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 those updates. These are not opportunities to lobby — they are briefings on the positions the president has taken and the status of seeing them through.
Let me just reiterate that. OFA cannot and will not guarantee access to any government officials, but “just as the president and 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 those updates.” …So, basically, all you’re really saying is… ‘This is happening, sorry we’re not sorry’?
Not accepting corporate, foreign, or federally-registered lobbyist donations and disclosing the names and amounts all big-dollar donors might be a small step in a more transparent direction, but that doesn’t really address the heart of the “selling access” complaints, does it? Individuals can still donate in unlimited amounts, and probably get a visit with the president out of it. “These are not opportunities to lobby”? Spare us the lip service.
On Thursday, campaign-finance watchdog groups remained critical of its fundraising structure, despite the new ban on corporate giving.
“OFA remains an unprecedented entity that allows individual donors and bundlers to provide unlimited amounts of money to an organization functioning as the arm of the Obama presidency,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said in a statement.