Because the president is personally backing a new group that has access to his campaign’s data on voters, including e-mail addresses and social network information, Democrats and Republicans say it could be a powerful force in upcoming congressional votes and elections.
The OFA will draw on “the tools, knowledge, networks and volunteers that secured President Obama a second term,” according to the summary prepared for donors. It lists resources the group can deploy: a “grassroots army” of 2.2 million volunteers, and “social media assets” that include 33 million Facebook friends, 26 million Twitter followers and 17 million e-mail subscribers.
With such potential power comes the new organization’s greatest challenge: Sustaining enthusiasm and support from donors and party regulars in the months after Obama’s election to a second term.
The ambitious goals and plentiful political resources were initially worrisome to some congressional Democrats, who feared that the new Obama entity could eclipse their fundraising efforts and even their legislative independence. Messina, lionized for his role managing the 2012 campaign, scored points with House Democrats with his trips to Capitol Hill expressing his interest in working together. His message was brought home dramatically last month when he promised Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, that Obama would headline eight fundraisers for House Democrats in 2013.
After the 2008 campaign, the field organization moved over to the Democratic National Committee, but some insiders felt the Democrats’ grass-roots organizing underperformed in mobilizing voter support for the health-care overhaul and other parts of the president’s agenda.
‘Social welfare’ designation
OFA stands alone as a nonprofit group independent of the DNC. Instead of being subject to Federal Election Commission disclosure rules, it has registered under section 501(c)4 of the tax code, meaning it will be governed by the looser standards of the Internal Revenue Service rather than the more rigorous disclosure rules of the FEC.
These 501(c)4 organizations are classified as “social welfare organizations.” Because they are required to have education or another public cause as their “primary purpose,” most of their funds cannot be spent on elections. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization is set up in similar fashion, and critics have said that most of the organization’s millions are spent to influence elections rather than educate or promote public welfare, a complaint the organization rejects.
“The new OFA organization is officially nonpartisan,” said Katie Hogan, who moved over from the campaign’s press office to speak for the OFA. Supporting the president’s policy agenda is OFA’s primary purpose, she said, adding that the organization “will not participate in electoral contests.”