Obama's 'Non-Profit' Sells Political Access
An incestuous relationship brews between the mega-wealthy and the White House.
Last weekend, the New York Times revealed that President Obama's campaign apparatus, Organizing for Action (OFA), has reinvented itself as a 501c 4 tax-exempt non-profit advocacy group offering access to the president in return for a large donation. “Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama's group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House,” reports the Times.
Furthermore, the OFA's reincarnation as an IRS-identified social welfare group is nothing less than a cynical attempt to violate the spirit of federal election laws. As the Times notes, OFA's new status means that “it is not bound by federal contribution limits, laws that bar White House officials from soliciting contributions, or the stringent reporting requirements for campaigns. In their place, the new group will self-regulate.” That self-regulation will ostensibly include releasing the names of the group's largest donors “every few months,” as a well as a promise not to have administration officials involved in fund-raising – even though those officials may appear at some events.
“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,” writes Breitbart's Michael Patrick Leahy. Leahy also contends Obama and OFA are “betting that they've cleverly discovered a loophole, one that Republicans will fail to challenge legally.” Robert K. Kelner, a Republican election lawyer agrees, noting that this unprecedented arrangement “presents a rather simple loophole in the otherwise incredibly complex web of government ethics regulations that are intended to insulate government officials from outside influence.”
On Monday, in a rare attempt by the White House press corps to ask challenging questions, Press Secretary Jay Carney was challenged to explain what was going on. As this video reveals Carney did nothing more than read talking points from a prepared statement. “Administration officials routinely interact with outside advocacy organizations, and this has been true in prior administrations, and it is true in this one,” Carney insisted. He further insisted the president was prepared to do several things “to eliminate the corrosive influence of money in Washington.”
Yet Carney was pressed further by Fox News' Ed Henry. “You're not denying the point that was reported by the New York Times, that even though (Obama) is for all those reforms, that if you give $500,000 or more to this group, you get access to the president,” he said. “The president is engaged in an effort to pass items on his agenda, and outside organizations that support that agenda…administration officials can meet with them, including the president,” Carney responded. “But the fact of the matter is this is an independent organization supporting an agenda.”
In other words, the answer is yes.
As for the agenda itself, OFA's executive director, and Jon Carson illuminated the opening salvo of causes to prospective donors in a conference call last Wednesday, according to those involved. “There are wins we can have on guns and immigration,” he contended. “We have to change the conventional wisdom on those issues.”
The effort to change the conventional wisdom is made far easier by a state-of-the-art technological infrastructure with access to the president's 2 million volunteers, 17 million e-mail subscribers, 22 million Twitter followers, and virtually every registered voter in the country. That technology allows OFA to deliver millions of messages in several different formats, including Facebook, Twitter, email and texts. It has already been used to pump up support for the president's State of the Union speech, and his gun-control agenda.
OFA was launched on January 18. At the time, the president sent out an email with the subject line “Say you're in,” to his supporters. He promised them OFA would constitute “an unparalleled force in American politics…turn our shared values into legislative action – and it'll empower the next generation of leaders in our movement.”
OFA's roster includes 2012 Obama campaign manager Jim Messina as Chairman of the Board, and Obama advisor David Axelrod as a consultant. Other members of the group, based in Washington and Chicago, include 2008 Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, and other longtime supporters, such as Robert Gibbs, Stephanie Cutter, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, Erik Smith, Julianna Smoot, and technology entrepreneur and top campaign fundraiser Frank White.
To reiterate, presidential access requires $500,000 or more, which the group anticipates will fund at least half of its anticipated budget, expected to total $50 million. Yet in March, when OFA holds a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, donors willing to pony up $50,000 will be granted access to Jim Messina and Jon Carson.
President Obama's willingness to make himself accessible to this organization and its high-rolling donors has come under criticism. “It just smells,” said Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to holding elected officials accountable to the public. “The president is setting a very bad model setting up this organization.” At MSNBC, even the reflexively liberal Chuck Todd was incredulous. “This just looks bad. It looks like the White House is selling access,” he contended. “The definition of how you define selling access. If you believe money has a stranglehold over the entire political system, this is ceding the moral high ground. And the President always has, from the moment he first announced his presidential bid in Springfield, six years ago, he stressed the need to curb the influence of special interests in Washington.”
One needn't go back six years. In 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of rescinding government-imposed restrictions on free speech, President Obama railed against the decision. “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics,” he said. “It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies, and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”
Thus, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. And it is further amplified by the president's effort to characterize OFA as an organization powered by “grass roots activists.” Yet according to Politico, OFA has “closely affiliated itself with insider liberal organizations funded by mega-donors like George Soros and corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Citi and Duke Energy,” as well as “the same rich donors who backed Obama's campaigns, asking for help from Democratic donors and bundlers in town for the Inauguration at a closed-door corporate-sponsored confab that featured Bill Clinton as the keynote speaker.”
None of this should surprise anyone. Barack Obama has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that he is willing to advance his agenda by any means necessary, even if he is revealed as an overt liar and unbridled hypocrite in the process. During his inaugural address, Obama claimed, “We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few.” On the other hand, access to the president is reserved for those with $500,000 or more.
Arnold Ahlert is a columnist for FrontPage Magazine.