Watchdog calls on Obama to shut down nonprofit, saying it sells access to president

February 26, 2013

The watchdog group Common Cause called on President Obama on Tuesday to shut down the nonprofit spinoff of his campaign committee, saying that the group effectively puts access to the president up "for sale."

“If President Obama is serious about his often-expressed desire to rein in big money in politics, he should shut down Organizing for Action and disavow any plan to schedule regular meetings with its major donors,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “Access to the President should never be for sale.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend that the nonprofit, which was spun off from Obama's "Obama for America" campaign committee, invited supporters who raise $500,000 to attend quarterly events with Obama. Republicans and watchdog groups have said the arrangement amounts to selling access to the president.

The White House struggled to respond to that accusation Monday, emphasizing that the Organizing for Action is independent of the administration and referring questions about its fundraising practices to the nonprofit.

As The Fix noted Monday, Obama has often talked a big game about getting the influence of money out of politics, but he has also been pragmatic when it suited his political purposes. He opted out of public financing for his 2008 campaign and embraced super PACs in his 2012 campaign -- after stressing previously that he supported public financing and thought super PACs were dangerous for democracy.

Here's the rest of Edgar's statement from Common Cause:

"With its reported promise of quarterly presidential meetings for donors and ‘bundlers’ who raise $500,000, Organizing For Action apparently intends to extend and deepen the pay-to-play Washington culture that Barack Obama came to prominence pledging to end. The White House’s suggestion this week that this group will somehow be independent is laughable.

"Organizing for Action’s organizers have indicated the group will accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations alike. The group has promised to disclose its donors but will release only limited information about their gifts, placing their donations within dollar ranges rather than revealing specific amounts.

"President Obama’s backers should go back to the drawing board. The President may feel that he needs help from an advocacy organization outside the White House and the Democratic Party, but any group he creates should be fundamentally different from what we now see in Organizing for Action.

"At a minimum, any outside advocacy organization tied to the President should live by the ground rules the President has adopted for his Administration and the anti-corruption laws that apply to political parties. That means any group associated with the President should refuse all donations from lobbyists, corporations and unions, provide complete and prompt disclosure of all its donors and the amounts they contribute, and impose an annual limit of $32,400 on the amount of money it will accept from any individual or political action committee."

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Paul Kane · February 26, 2013