Tuesday, March 12, 2013

President Obama Raised Funds for Organizing for Action

    At the February 25th White House press briefing, Jay Carney faced some pointed questions about Organizing for Action (OFA), President Obama's former campaign turned non-profit advocacy organization, based on a New York Times story that suggested OFA was selling Oval Office access for $500,000 donations.  The line of questioning had apparently been anticipated as Carney was clearly reading his response from prepared notes.  Part of that response denied that administration officials would be fund raising on behalf of OFA:
    President Obama has also outlined additional concrete steps Congress should take to eliminate the corrosive influence of money in Washington like holding Congress to the same conflict of interest standards as the executive branch, and prohibiting lobbyists from bundling and bundlers from lobbying.

     The fact is there are a variety of rules governing interaction between administration officials and outside groups, and administration officials follow those rules.  White House and administration officials will not be raising money for Organizing for Action.  And while they may appear at appropriate OFA events in their official capacities, they will not be raising money.
     However, President Obama has already violated this pledge. Before his State of the Union (SOTU) address on February 12, OFA sent an email with an invitation to listen in on a conference call in which the president would participate directly following his speech:
You can still join the online call with President Obama after he delivers the State of the Union tonight.
It's happening at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time -- RSVP to join here:
Once you do, we'll send you the link where you can join us for the call.
You're not going to want to miss this one. 
Organizing for Action
    Signing up for the call at the link in the email immediately took visitors to this page:

    The conference call itself took place at this page, which now promises a recording of the call in the near future.  A "donate" button appears in the upper left corner:

    Previously, an email from President that went out prior to his inauguration asked recipients to "say you're in" and provided a link to a page with a video of Michelle Obama touting the launch of Organizing for Action.  Another email from the president went out three days later immediately following his inauguration with the same link.  After entering an email address on that link, users are taken to an OFA donations page.  Both emails were signed "Barack" and included "Paid for by Organizing for Action" at the bottom, as this sample shows:

    Jay Carney's assertions of "independence" notwithstanding, the president's ability to send emails from OFA seems indicative of a formal position with the organization.  And while his emails and his post-SOTU conference call did not explicitly solicit funds, the donations page was the ultimate destination. Given these connections of the president with OFA, it's little wonder Common Cause and other watchdog organizations have expressed deep concern.
    So far, however, the president shows no signs of yielding to the pressure.  On Monday, Jay Carney dug in his heels in response to further questioning:
 The bottom line here is that this is a separate organization, as we've noted, the existence of which is perfectly appropriate.  And the White House will engage with it consistent with the way we engage with a whole host of other outside constituencies. 
    However, the bequeathing of the president's campaign email list, website, and Twitter account to OFA alone are reasons to doubt that the organization is just another "outside constituenc[y]." Add to that the famous Obama "O" logo and personal involvement of the president and his wife in OFA's launch and Carney's words simply ring hollow.

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