The news that Organizing for Action, President Obama's new lobbying organization, plans to arrange meetings with the President for its top donors, is generating calls for some serious reforms in the organization.
An editorial in Sunday's Washington Post explains the central problem with OFA:
"Judging by recent reports, Organizing for Action should be renamed Paying for Access. The Obama team has been talking about raising half the group's money through $500,000 donations from the president's top supporters. They will apparently be offered a spot on an advisory board with the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president. The White House has confirmed that while the president and his aides won't directly raise money for the group, they will appear at its events. That will give big donors the chance to ask Mr. Obama about a pet project or appointment, behavior that has become all too common in this town and carries more than a whiff of influence-peddling."
The New York Times lays out how OFA has departed from its grassroots origins:
"It is understandable that the White House might want to make use of its campaign voter list, mobilizing supporters when it needs help getting bills through Congress. The group's leaders say they will be holding rallies on important topics ranging from immigration to climate change, and note that this kind of organizing is expensive. But the frantic pursuit of big money makes it impossible to call this a grass-roots effort."
Any corporation with a matter pending before the administration can give lavishly to Organizing for Action as a way of currying favor, knowing that the West Wing will take note. (The group does not have to disclose its donors but says it will, and also plans to reject money from registered lobbyists and PACs.) It is also a way for donors to bypass the limits on giving to the Democratic Party: the new group does similar work, but without the restrictions on donations.
Take another look at what Common Cause President Bob Edgar had to say last week:
"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. 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."
It isn't too late for the President to do the right thing, but if he wants to turn Organizing for Action from part of the problem to part of the solution, he'll need to stand up to the big donors and special interests. Help nudge him in the right direction at http://www.commoncause.org/tellthepresident -- tell President Obama what you want him to do to fix our democracy.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics