Common Cause, the good-government group founded in 1970, has a loud-and-clear message for President Obama: He should tell his former campaign aides to shut down Organizing for Action, the nonprofit group created to promote Obama's second-term legislative agenda.
As the New York Times reported on Sunday, Organizing for Action hopes to raise $50 million, and its leaders—including former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina—are courting wealthy givers to fill the group's war chest. An elite group of donors giving or raising $500,000 or more is expected to cough up at least half of OFA's budget. Those top-tier donors, whose names OFA says it will voluntarily disclose quarterly (which goes beyond what most nonprofits disclose), will earn a spot on OFA's "national advisory board" and, more importantly, get to meet with Obama four times a year, according to the Times.
Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, said in a statement blasted out to reporters on Tuesday that Obama should push to have OFA shut down and should "disavow any plan" to meet with OFA's bankrollers. "With its reported promise of quarterly presidential meetings for donors and 'bundlers' who raise $500,000, Organizing for Action apparently intends to extend and deepen the pay-to-play Washington culture that Barack Obama came to prominence pledging to end," Edgar said. "Access to the president should never be for sale."
Organizing for Action is a reincarnation of Obama's reelection campaign, the most technologically sophisticated in history. OFA will have access to the databases and massive supporter network—2 million volunteers, 17 million email subscribers, and 22 million Twitter followers—built up by Team Obama in the run-up to last year's presidential election. Although it is now running ads hitting lawmakers on the issue of gun control, OFA says it will not get involved in elections, focusing solely on building support for Obama's legislative priorities, which include immigration reform, gun control, and revamping the tax code. OFA is allowed to coordinate its efforts with the Obama White House, which it wouldn't have been able to do as a super-PAC.
But by organizing as a nonprofit, and agreeing to accept unlimited funds from corporations, unions, and individuals, OFA has been pilloried by Republicans and Democrats. They see OFA as a direct contradiction to Obama's opposition to big-money politics and his pledge to clean up Washington's cash-driven political culture. "It's the right vehicle from a legal perspective, but it is breathtakingly hypocritical," Charles Spies, a Republican lawyer who ran the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future, told me last month.
Common Cause's Edgar doesn't begrudge the president for wanting outside help in his second term, but he says it should not come from an access-peddling outfit like OFA. "President Obama's backers should go back to the drawing board. The president may feel that he needs help from an advocacy organization outside the White House and the Democratic Party, but any group he creates should be fundamentally different from what we now see in Organizing for Action."