Left-wing group urges Obama to shut down campaign apparatus

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The president of the United States should close down his new lobbying, advocacy and fund-raising organization, says a left-wing group that has long sought to reduce the role of donations in politics.

“If President Obama is serious about his often-expressed desire to rein in big money in politics, he should shut down Organizing for Action and disavow any plan to schedule regular meetings with its major donors,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, which helped pass the 2002 campaign finance law.

“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.

OFA is a novel advocacy operation run by Obama from the White House, via his 2012 campaign staff. It is expected to play a role in the 2014 election, and likely will try to help Democrats gain a majority in the House, and buffer their Senate majority.

The group has caused Obama some embarrassment in recent days, following news reports that OFA’s leaders were offering political access in exchange for cash.

OFA’s leaders say that donations of $50,000 would ensure access to White House officials, while a donation of $500,000 could ensure a quarterly meetings with the president, said a Feb. 14 report in the Los Angeles Times.

“People are not doing this to get their third or sixth photo with the president. … Everybody is in because they are in,” a donor told the Times.

On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney evaded questions about the pay-to-play offer.

“OFA, which you are asking about, is an independent organization that, as reported in the press, will engage in advocacy and grassroots mobilization activities around public policy issues,” he said, while reading a prepared statement.

“It will not be engaged in political campaign-related activities … [but] has been organized to rally support for the president’s policy agenda,” he claimed.

“White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action … [although] they may appear at appropriate OFA events in their official capacities,” Carney said.

“The fact of the matter is this is an independent organization that is supporting an agenda,” Carney insisted.

“The White House’s suggestion this week that this group will somehow be independent is laughable,” said Edgar at Common Cause.

OFA’s leadership consists of Obama’s top campaign staff, and it issues tweets under Obama’s name.

Previously, presidents worked with their political party’s campaign apparatus, and with candidates.

“At a minimum, any outside advocacy organization tied to the President should live by the ground rules the President has adopted for his Administration and the anti-corruption laws that apply to political parties,” Edgar said.

“That means any group associated with the President should refuse all donations from lobbyists, corporations and unions, provide complete and prompt disclosure of all its donors and the amounts they contribute, and impose an annual limit of $32,400 on the amount of money it will accept from any individual or political action committee.”

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