Group backing Obama won't take corporate money

Associated Press + More

By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Reversing course amid criticism, a nonprofit group run by former advisers to President Barack Obama said Thursday it would not accept corporate donations and would disclose the specific amount of money it receives from donors after being accused of selling access to the White House.

Jim Messina, the chairman of Organizing for Action, wrote in an op-ed published Thursday by CNN.com that the group believes in being "open and transparent" and had decided not to accept corporate money, a move in keeping with Obama's past campaign practices. Every donor who gives $250 or more will be disclosed on the group's website with the exact amount on a quarterly basis, he said.

The close ties between the White House and Organizing for Action, a nonprofit that was formed from Obama's 2012 campaign, have drawn questions about whether bundlers who raise $500,000 or more for OFA will get quarterly meetings with Obama. OFA and the White House have disputed those charges.

Open-government groups have said Obama has changed course since being critical of the role of money in politics during his first campaign and the start of his presidency, and they say the nonprofit provides new ways for corporations and individuals to influence the administration.

Messina wrote in the op-ed that while OFA "is a nonprofit social welfare organization that faces a lower disclosure threshold than a political campaign, we believe in being open and transparent."

"That's why every donor who gives $250 or more to this organization will be disclosed on the website with the exact amount they give on a quarterly basis," he wrote.

Messina said the group would not accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors. Obama has rejected donations from those entities in the past, although the committee running his second inaugural accepted contributions from corporations and did not release specific donation amounts from its donors. OFA said later that it would accept contributions from labor unions.

Corporations will still have an outlet to connect with the administration. Business Forward, a 3-year-old trade group that has organized meetings between businesses and Obama officials, has said it will ramp up its operations. The group is funded by corporate money and has received contributions from about 50 companies that pay $25,000 or $50,000 a year to be involved and participate in briefings between Obama administration officials and businesses.

OFA is led by Messina, who served as Obama's 2012 campaign manager, and several former Obama campaign and White House aides sit on its board. Former White House senior adviser David Plouffe is expected to join the board soon.

The group has vowed to raise millions of dollars and harness Obama's grassroots army behind the president's second-term initiatives such as gun control and immigration reform. Messina said nearly 1 million people already have mobilized as part of the group, and it has held events in 80 congressional districts in support of curbing gun violence.

Messina said in the op-ed that "there has been some confusion" over OFA's role, stressing that it is "an issue advocacy group, not an electoral one."

"We'll mobilize to support the president's agenda, but we won't do so on behalf of political candidates," he said.

The group is holding a "founders' summit" for donors next week at a Washington hotel that will include addresses by Messina, Plouffe and others, with briefings the next day on immigration, gun control and climate change.

Bob Edgar, president of watchdog group Common Cause, said he was pleased to see that the group had "reconsidered their initial decision to solicit corporate contributions and sell access to the president through OFA." He said it was "just a start" and urged the organization to mobilize its supporters behind campaign finance reform.

___

Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.