Next week, will be the launch of Obama for America, as a tax-exempt organization, it will become exactly what Democrats have reviled over the last two years: a massive, powerful force in politics that doesn’t have to reveal anything about the donors behind it.
Democrats and liberals bashed the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other conservatives who spearheaded hundreds of millions of dollars in secret donations to groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity during the 2012 campaign. Obama, while raising over $1 billion himself, repeatedly lamented the influence of big money.
Organizing for Action, plans to voluntarily disclose its donors, stay out of elections and follow all applicable laws governing nonprofits. It may run “issue” oriented television and radio ads and President Barack Obama may personally fundraise on behalf of the group.
Yet under the law, a super PAC would be more transparent. Unlike a super PAC, which has to file regular reports with the Federal Election Commission, the 501(c)4 non-profits don’t have to disclose their donors or amounts, so it’s up to each group to decide what (if anything) it makes public and when (if ever) that happens.
For example, Obama’s 2009 inaugural committee made both its donors and how much they gave public information. His 2013 committee is just posting the names online — no amounts, no location, no personal information that would help to further identify them. And the first posting came in a classic Friday news dump earlier this month.
“How are they a ‘nonprofit’ organization but groups like the American Future Fund and Crossroads GPS are ‘shadowy’ interest groups?” asked Matt Beynon, former Rick Santorum campaign aide and president of Madison Strategic Ventures.
“They’re following the law,” Beynon, who has worked for conservative outside groups, said about Organizing for Action. “Well, we’re following the law too.”
Yet during his first term Obama blasted the Citizens United court decision that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums of money on elections — but he gave his blessing to his own super PAC last year, afraid he would be outspent by Mitt Romney and company.
“They have a vested interest in being able to spend millions anonymously to influence our elections — many of the corporations and individuals funding their organizations don’t want their agendas to receive scrutiny from the press or the public,” a fundraising email from campaign manager Jim Messina wrote in a June email to supporters “We can make sure they don’t get away with hiding these donors — or their agendas. But it’s going to take a lot of us standing up, putting our foot down, and saying ‘Hell no.’”
That same Messina email went on to specifically name Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS as secret money groups trying to buy the election — two groups organized under the exact same provision of the tax code as the new Obama nonprofit.
Then and aide familiar with the new nonprofit also told POLITICO that while corporate and unlimited donations, it would not accept money from lobbyists or other political action committees. The decision to accept corporate donations — a big reversal from Obama’s pledge to curb the influence of special interests in Washington — also has government watchdogs worried.
And it has been suggested that Obama is missing the chance to lead by example, at the start of his second term by skipping corporate money.
They won’t take money from MoveOn, Democracy for America, or Progressive Change Campaign Committee PACs, but will accept million-dollar checks from Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.
Paul Ryan, a campaign finance expert and senior counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said that if the Obama nonprofit stayed away from pary primaries and elections, it could easily stay within the bounds of existing law. Ryan, however, added that Obama has been an unambiguous disappointment on the issues of campaign finance.