By now, you've probably heard about Organizing for Action, the newest incarnation of the Obama campaign operation. Now we hear news that the entity, organized as a 501(c)(4) non-profit, will fund itself from top down. According to The New York Times:
In private meetings and phone calls, Mr. Obama’s aides have made clear that the new organization will rely heavily on a small number of deep-pocketed donors, not unlike the "super PACs" whose influence on political campaigns Mr. Obama once deplored.
At least half of the group's budget will come from a select group of donors who will each contribute or raise $500,000 or more, according to donors and strategists involved in the effort.
Some say there's no such thing as a free lunch; according to reporting done by the Times, apparently there's no such thing as a free $500,000 contribution either:
Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama's group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama's top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.
When asked about the access up for sale, Press Secretary Jay Carney basically ignored the question:
And while Carney tries to frame OFA as an “independent organization,” he neglects to mention that its staff reportedly manages the President’s voice online through sites like Facebook and Twitter.
It's embarrassing that the largest grassroots organization in history would abandon its own beliefs. As a matter of principle, this is just wrong -- Democrats and progressives looking to make change must abandon the corrupting money of Citizens United and fund their activities through grassroots support.
It's also a significant mistake to ignore the lessons gleaned from the remarkable small-dollar fundraising that President Obama and his campaign team championed in 2008 and 2012. By utilizing the best technology and organizing know-how, the campaign was able to channel grassroots activism into a massive wave of small donations that fueled the President's rise to the White House in 2008 and sprung into action again in 2012.
Organizing for Action should embrace its base of grassroots donors as a model of participatory democracy, not shun them in the dash to rake in huge contributions from a wealthy and powerful few. We cannot return to the days of soft money -- when unlimited corporate contributions blurred the differences between the two political parties, and resulted in policies that slammed average working families while rewarding Wall Street.