Some of the same House Republicans the president will address are already feeling the sharper edge of OFA.
“Congress failed to compromise — with some Republicans insisting on protecting tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans (seriously),” OFA Executive Director Jon Carson wrote in one e-mail to supporters last week. “Because of it, a series of devastating budget cuts known as the sequester are now in effect.”
When Obama enters the St. Regis Hotel for his Wednesday dinner speech to 100 or so OFA founders, he’ll encounter familiar faces from the campaign, many of whom now staff the group. It is chaired by Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager and a White House official in the first term, who will address the “founders summit” meeting earlier in the day. He is expected to stress that the group will be oriented around the issues at the core of the president’s agenda, rather than electoral politics.
That line is similar to the one deployed by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie in 2010 when they founded Crossroads GPS, another nonprofit organization that collects checks of unlimited size to fund its politically oriented advertising budget.
OFA announced last week that it will not accept donations from corporations as originally planned and that it will disclose the identities of major donors and the amounts given. Critics note that that arrangement still puts the president in the position of soliciting large checks from wealthy individuals and unions.
Obama’s willingness to accept big checks under these circumstances appalled some reformers, who saw it as a betrayal of his oft-stated promise to change Washington’s pay-to-play money culture.
Others say it is simply an acknowledgment of the real requirements for political players in the years since the Supreme Court granted corporations and unions the right to make political donations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Asked this week if Obama had “given up on campaign finance reform,” Carney responded, “No.”
“One thing that he’s adamant about in the wake of the unfortunate Citizens United decision is that at the very least, Republicans ought to go along with disclosure,” he said.
Although Wednesday’s meeting will be attended by donors from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and New York, OFA insiders say fundraising for such an ambitious organization will be one of its biggest challenges.
Initially, major donors received a separate invitation to Wednesday’s event telling them that they must donate $50,000 per person to be part of the summit. Now, OFA officials say there is effectively a sliding admission price, with many volunteers paying nothing.
The mix of wealthy donors, campaign luminaries and election staffers may undermine what OFA leaders say is a key message for the meeting: that the group is not an election-related organization.
“If you want to help Democrats win elections, go to the DNC,” said one operative who is helping to launch OFA and who spoke about the group’s goals on the condition of anonymity. “This organization is committed to supporting the president’s agenda.”
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