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Messina Putting Obama Campaign Forces to Work in States

Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Jim Messina, Organizing for Action co-chairman, speaks with reporters and editors during a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington. Close

Jim Messina, Organizing for Action co-chairman, speaks with reporters and editors... Read More

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Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Jim Messina, Organizing for Action co-chairman, speaks with reporters and editors during a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington.

President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign -- a political powerhouse with 20 million e-mail addresses and 4 million volunteers -- is setting its sights on state-level battles such as gay marriage legislation in Illinois.

Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager and chairman of its successor, a nonprofit called Organizing for Action, said today at a Bloomberg Government lunch that the three-month-old national group will take its case for the president’s legislative agenda out of Washington.

Today, the group announced it would offer its support for publicly funded elections in New York. OFA, which has 744,000 members in the state, plans an informational conference call for them tomorrow night. The group “brings unstoppable momentum” to the legislative effort, Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York, which advocates for public financing, said in a statement.

Messina told Bloomberg News that OFA already has begun working on other state issues. For example, he said, the group has asked supporters to push for legislation in Illinois that would permit same-sex couples to wed and is beginning to help defend New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s gun-legislation package.

“The truth is, if we really are a grassroots organization run by our supporters, you have to do that stuff,” he said. “If OFA is to succeed in a way I think it can, it absolutely has to be locally driven. You will see us do a whole bunch of stuff at a local level that will seem counterintuitive to the national message.”

Leveraging Issues

Local issues can be leveraged federally, Messina said, drawing that lesson from recent organized labor fights in Wisconsin and Ohio. He said the Obama campaign’s assistance in those issues netted it more voter registrations and more volunteers for the November 2012 election.

That happened ‘because they were involved in issues they were passionate about,’’ he said.

At the same time, OFA will keep its hand in Obama initiatives such as federal-level gun control and immigration policy changes.

On March 28, OFA, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and other gun-control advocates will participate in a “National Day of Action” to show support for a U.S. Senate bill that expands background checks for gun purchases.

Gun Events

Rallies, petition drives and press conferences will take place in Arizona, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, according to a statement by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. That group was co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

The partnership on March 28 is typical of how OFA will operate on national issues, Messina said. While it’s a nonpartisan organization, it will join with politically active groups such as Bloomberg’s, he said. The mayor on March 24 announced a $12 million television ad campaign for gun control targeting senators in certain states -- including the ones where OFA actions are taking place on March 28.

As a nonprofit, OFA can accept unlimited amounts of money without naming its donors publicly. Messina previously said the group will voluntarily disclose its contributors every three months. The group won’t accept checks from corporations or lobbyists, he said.

The group also won’t spend money to back or attack specific candidates, he said. That work will be left to others -- including another client of Messina’s, the Democratic National Committee.

Messina said his new consulting firm, the Messina Group, will consult for the DNC. The Messina Group also is courting corporate clients, and he has been giving paid speeches, domestically and internationally. His work for OFA is unpaid, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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