Obama’s Advocacy Group Under Fire Rejects Corporate Donors

Organizing for Action, the advocacy group formed after President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, reversed course and said it won’t take corporate contributions to help fund its activities.

The announcement by Chairman Jim Messina in an article he wrote for CNN.com didn’t offer any reasons for the change in policy. His comments today followed criticism from several organizations that back stronger campaign-finance rules.

“We have now decided not to accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors,” Messina wrote. Political action committee donations also are banned.

Organizing for Action was formed as a nonprofit group under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, allowing it to accept unlimited corporate, union and individual contributions and keep its benefactors hidden from public view. The group from the start promised to voluntarily list its donors, including corporations, and to refuse money from lobbyists and PACs.

Fred Wertheimer, a longtime proponent of tougher campaign-funding laws, called Organizing for Action “an unprecedented vehicle for potential influence-buying, influence-selling and government scandals.” Common Cause President Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, said Obama’s supporters “should go back to the drawing board.” Common Cause is an advocacy group that also backs new curbs on fundraising.

Fundamental Issues

Wertheimer called today’s decision “appropriate,” while also saying there are still “fundamental problems” with the group.

“The unlimited amounts provided to OFA create opportunities for individual donors and bundlers to buy corrupting influence over the Obama administration’s policies and decisions,” Wertheimer said in a statement. “At a minimum, they create the appearance that opportunities for such corrupting influence exist.”

In his daily briefing on March 4, White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the group against allegations that it was offering meetings with Obama to top donors.

“Any notion that there is a set price for a meeting with the president of the United States is just wrong,” Carney said.

Rebalancing Power

Messina, who managed the president’s re-election effort, said every donor of $250 or more will be listed quarterly with the amount of his or her contribution. “We believe in being open and transparent,” he wrote on CNN.com.

Organizing for Action was formed “to rebalance the power structure” away from special interests, Messina wrote.

“For every lobbying group that puts a dollar on the air tearing down the president’s agenda, an Organizing for Action volunteer will mobilize to counter it,” he wrote. “Instead of coming from the highest paid lobbyists on K Street, change will come from Americans organizing across the nation.”

Messina said contributors won’t be guaranteed access to the White House or any officials, though they may receive the same briefings that the administration gives to others.

“These are not opportunities to lobby -- they are briefings on the positions the president has taken and the status of seeing them through,” Messina wrote.

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