Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama Launches Advocacy Nonprofit

This article was featured in the latest edition of NPT Weekly. Sign-up for this free eNewsletter by visiting our subscription page.
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The organization behind President Barack Obama’s two successful election campaigns will become a nonprofit, using its massive database of supporters to advocate for the president’s agenda.

Jim Messina, head of what was once called Obama for America, wrote in an email to supporters that the organization will transform into a nonprofit called Organizing for Action (OFA). It will be a 501(c)(4), meaning it is tax exempt as long as it does not directly involve itself in election activities. OFA will immediately begin advocating for the president’s second-term agenda, with issues such as gun control and immigration set to be discussed.

“If we can take the enthusiasm and passion that people showed throughout the campaign and channel it into the work ahead of us, we will be unstoppable,” said Messina, who will be OFA’s national chairman, in the email to supporters.

Jon Carson, director of the Office of Public Engagement at the White House, will leave the administration to become OFA’s executive director, according to a report by The Associated Press. The organization’s board of directors will include several former White House and campaign aides, including former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, and top campaign officials Stephanie Cutter, Jennifer O’Malley-Dillon and Julianna Smoot.

Supporters of the organization hope that this incarnation of Obama for America will see more use than the post-2008 election version. The organization renamed itself Organizing for America when Obama first took office, but remained a part of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The organization did play a big role in the fight to pass what would become the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to an article dated Oct. 20, 2009 on The Huffington Post, OFA exceeded its goal of 100,000 calls to lawmakers to encourage them to support health care reform that day, eventually reaching 300,000 calls.

Yet aside from that effort, the administration made little use of OFA’s extensive database of supporters. For instance, OFA remained largely silent in 2010 during the debate over whether Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy should be extended; many on the left believed rates on the wealthy should return to Clinton-era levels. All of the rates were eventually extended for another two years. Rates did return to those levels for those making more than $400,000 following the recent fiscal cliff deal.

Messina and the rest of OFA believe things will be different this time around, as he pledged the organization would be driven by supporters, and would follow the Obama campaign’s principles of “respect, empower, and include.” Since the organization will be a nonprofit, it will no longer be associated with the DNC.

“We'll continue to support the President in creating jobs and growing the economy from the middle out, and in fighting for issues like immigration reform, climate change, balanced deficit reduction, and reducing gun violence,” said Messina.

The switch to a 501(c)(4) organization puts OFA in the same category as conservative organizations such as Republican operative Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. The President and Democrats have routinely criticized those organizations for refusing to disclose its donors. In the announcement, it was revealed that OFA will accept financial contributions from individuals and corporations, but will refuse donations from lobbyists or political action committees (PACs).

A call to OFA to find out whether they plan to release the names of their highest contributing donors was not immediately returned.

Since the election ended in November, the OFA campaign list has been used to rally supporters around the president’s original “fiscal cliff” plan, which called for increases in tax rates for the wealthiest Americans, and a “balanced” deficit reduction plan that included a mix of spending cuts and revenue raisers. The campaign included a Twitter campaign to pressure lawmakers to extend Bush-era tax cuts on individuals and families making $250,000 or less, using the hashtag #My2k to inform lawmakers why the tax cut was important to them.

When OFA was first created for the presidential election 2008, it was a groundbreaking development in grassroots organizing. It collected information from its many backers and, for the first time, linked supporters together through the Internet. It helped produce record turnouts for the election, using the data they collected to identify new voters and ensure they showed up on Election Day.

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