We clearly got OFA's attention when we asked President Obama to replace OFA with a more transparent and grassroots organization. This morning, Jim Messina announced significant steps in the right direction " full disclosure of exact contribution amounts, a prohibition on corporate, lobbyist and foreign money, and a clear statement (finally) that large contributions "won't guarantee access" and that quarterly meetings with the President will be briefings, not opportunities to lobby.
But OFA has a ways to go to restore the public's trust after its clumsy announcement that $500,000 donors will get special access to the President. Keep in mind that OFA is run by Obama strategists, its website address is barackobama.org, and its Tweets are signed "BO." Any organization this closely aligned with the President must uphold the highest standards of ethics and transparency in order to avoid fueling cynicism about who has the President's ear.
To do that, President Obama's OFA needs to be the change candidate Obama promised. That means voluntarily abiding by the contribution limits that apply to political parties, scrupulously avoiding special perks for big donors, and full transparency for any coordination or meetings between OFA and its backers.
And while they're at it, why not use OFA to fight for clean government? As Bob Edgar said earlier today: "If Organizing for Action is serious about putting public concerns about undue influence to bed, it should mobilize its impressive small-donor and activist base to push for real reform to clean up Washington."
President Obama came to power in 2008 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment and the promise to change the way Washington works. In his speech launching his presidential bid in 2007, Obama said:
The cynics, and the lobbyists, and the special interests [have] turned our government into a game only they can afford to play. They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we're here today to take it back. The time for that politics is over. It's time to turn the page.
Now it's time for President Obama to step up to the plate and knock one out of the park for the American people. Poll after poll shows that super-majorities of Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, think that corporations and other wealthy special interests call the shots in Washington. They also support common sense reforms, like a small-donor public funding system that would give candidates a way to campaign without relying on big money.
President Obama is running out of excuses for his inaction on government reform. Last September, Obama told an audience that, "The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside." While we beg to differ " there are several important changes that the President could make now without any consent or action from Congress " Organizing For Action has the potential to be the answer to his lament.
OFA boasts 12.2 million members. Mobilizing all those people on gun control or immigration reform may be important, but it doesn't change "business as usual" in Washington. Mobilizing 12.2 million people to clean up Washington and end the reign of big money would.
Is President Obama serious about change, or was he just playing to the crowd? Either way, we're about to find out.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics