Organizing for Action raises $4.9 million in first quarter

April 12, 2013

Organizing for Action, a political group allied with President Obama, raised a relatively modest $4.9 million in its first quarter of operation, with an average donation of $44, the group reported Friday.

In an e-mail to supporters, the group’s executive director, Jon Carson, wrote that “109,582 supporters stepped up and invested what we’re building together — from the grassroots up.”

The group, which is focused on promoting Obama’s budget, immigration and gun control initiatives, has come under fire for using its connection to the president to raise money.

In early March, OFA reversed course and announced it would not accept corporate contributions, though it still takes unlimited donations from individuals. OFA also decided to publicly identify donors who give more than $250, which, as a nonprofit advocacy group, it is not required to do.

While the nearly $5 million provides OFA with resources to mobilize the president’s supporters, it pales in comparison with the $86 million Obama raised during the first quarter of his 2012 campaign between April and June 2011. Obama’s GOP rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, raised $18 million during the same period.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski took a shot at OFA’s finances in an e-mail, writing, “It’s no surprise a partisan arm of the Obama presidency is having a hard time finding support after years of broken promises from Barack Obama to change politics as usual.”

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said she was “not surprised at the significantly lower figure” OFA posted during its first reporting period. “This is a bank shot, and the bank shot is harder,” McGehee said.

But McGehee added that even the smaller take does not erase the fact that Obama and his deputies are soliciting money for a group they care about, and these same people occupy powerful positions in Washington.

“Certainly you can say that from one perspective, this is just Obama and his team trying to overcome the political gridlock here in Washington and activating the grass roots,” she said. “Here’s the problem: It’s a sitting president. He’s in the business of raising money for an outside entity, and it creates a very stark opportunity for access and influence buying.”

Many of the biggest OFA donors were longtime Democratic donors who had helped finance Obama’s presidential bids.

The largest single contribution to OFA came from New York philanthropist Philip Munger, who gave $250,000. San Francisco Bay area philanthropist John Goldman — an entrepreneur with a share of the Levi Strauss fortune — came in second, with $125,000. Other big givers included New York financier Orin Kramer ($75,000), Oakland, Calif., real estate investor Wayne Jordan ($50,000) and Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias ($50,000).

While touting the group’s first fundraising haul, Carson also used the moment to ask supporters for more. “People — especially the special interests on the other side — are taking notice of what this grassroots-funded organization is up to,” he wrote. “Don’t miss your chance to be part of this movement: We’re off to a running start, and we’re not turning back.”

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