Good-government activists are concerned that a new political organization created by President Obama's supporters could lead to unfair influence for the rich and for powerful special interests, and some Democrats are worried that the group could divert funds and volunteers from the Democratic party in the runup to the 2014 mid-term elections.
A handful of Obama's top political campaign advisers from 2012, including former campaign manager Jim Messina, have formed Organizing for Action, to be funded by donations from well-heeled individuals and corporations to promote Obama's agenda.
The organizers say the group will be nonpartisan and will focus on issues such as gun control, immigration, and climate change, not on electing specific candidates. Among the goals of OFA are to "strengthen the progressive movement and train our next generation of leaders," according to a fundraising memo sent out by the group.
However, OFA has already begun running online ads in the home states and districts of a dozen GOP members of the Senate and House urging the legislators to support Obama's position on gun control.
OFA is designed to be independent of the Democratic National Committee under a provision of the tax code known as 501(c)4, classifying it as a "social welfare organization." As a result, OFA won't be subject to strict fund-raising restrictions and disclosure requirements.
The group is causing some angst within the party establishment because of concern that it may attract support that would otherwise go to formal arms of the party, such as the DNC or the party's congressional campaign committee. But OFA officials say they intend to work hand in hand with the party, not compete with it.
Political reformers see OFA as a vehicle for providing special access to the wealthy and big business. Bob Edgar, a former Democratic U.S. representative from Pennsylvania who heads Common Cause, told The Washington Post, "This OFA idea is a terrible example of individuals and corporations being asked to pay to get access."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.