Why Obama agenda group faces pushback from some Democrats
Organizing for Action, an issue-advocacy group that spun off from President Obama's reelection campaign, is going after some Democrats and competing for fundraising dollars.
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But sensitivities among Democrats over OFA remain an issue. Some strategists are concerned that OFA fundraising will take away from party committees. After all, there’s only so much money to go around.Skip to next paragraph
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“You sure as heck don’t want donor fatigue to set in a year and a half before the midterms,” says a Democratic consultant who only spoke on condition of anonymity.
Another area of concern is the Obama database, known as Project Narwhal. Technically it still belongs to the Obama campaign, and OFA has leased the data. But what about other campaigns that could benefit from it – not just for the 2014 midterms, but elections this year? The special Senate election in Massachusetts on June 25, pitting Rep. Ed Markey (D) against businessman Gabriel Gomez, is tight. So is the race for Virginia governor between state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe this November. Access to the Obama list is still under discussion.
Party officials say the division of labor between OFA and the DNC makes sense. Four years ago, the first Obama campaign morphed into Organizing for America – an issue advocacy group that was housed within the DNC. But that OFA was underfunded, and seen as having only modest impact on the health-care debate. In the end, Organizing for America was really about gearing up for Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
Now, as a nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)4 organization, Organizing for Action can raise unlimited funds without disclosure and channel its energy toward issue advocacy, leaving the DNC to focus on elections. The new OFA is barred from getting involved in elections (though some Republicans are still nervous that the old Obama machine will rise up and defeat them).
The latest iteration of OFA has also raised the ire of campaign-finance watchdogs, unhappy that Obama has embraced the new world of unlimited donations he once decried. But OFA discloses on its website every donor who gives $250 or more and has also barred contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists, and foreign donors. [Editor's note: The original version mischaracterized OFA's position on disclosing donors.]
But so far, at least, the megadonations have not been rolling in, reducing the appearance that OFA – and, by extension, the Obama White House – is a tool of moneyed interests. In the first quarter of 2013, OFA reported 109,582 donors, with an average donation of $44.
The DNC says it has no qualms about OFA’s existence.
“We are one big family,” says Brad Woodhouse, DNC communications director.
But not all Democrats agree.
“OFA is a very Obama-centric group of people, with a very Obama-centric mission,” says the Democratic consultant. “So the notion of them doing anything that is going to be helpful to the party is – well, there’s a lot of people who question that…. It’s trickle-down politics.”
On the first big issue, guns, OFA and state Democratic officials clashed. OFA called out red-state Democratic senators for voting against expanded background checks, including two who are up for reelection next year, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. OFA volunteers made calls to voters in those states making sure they knew how their senators voted. Republicans joked that the OFA attacks were probably a gift to the vulnerable Democrats.