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Tom Murse

How Obama's Political Campaign Reinvented Itself After 2012

By February 21, 2013

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Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama's top political advisers shifted gears after helping the Democrat win a second term in the 2012 presidential election.

They launched a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" organization that is able to raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and wealthy donors to influence policy debates, thanks to the controversial Supreme Court's controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United.

So will Organizing for Action become just another source of dark money in politics?

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No, it promises.

"Neither OFA nor its chapters will be involved in any way in elections or partisan political activity," it stated on its website.

Organizing for Action described its mission as supporting the president "in achieving enactment of the national agenda Americans voted for on Election Day 2012."

"OFA will advocate for these policies throughout the country and will mobilize citizens of all parties and diverse points to speak out for speedy passage and effective implementation of this program, including gun control, sensible environmental policies to address climate change and immigration reform," the group said.

The group's chairman is 2012 Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. David Plouffe, formerly a top adviser to Obama, is now advising Organizing for Action. Despite the strong ties between Obama's campaign and the newly formed social welfare group Organizing for Action maintains it will not operate as an arm of the Obama White House.

"Organizing for Action will draw in part on the network, technology and volunteers that distinguished the President's successful re-election effort, but only for its purposes of issue advocacy and mobilization of citizens in support of the President's legislative agenda," OFA said.

Government watchdogs expressed concern about the group.

"We're concerned by his Organizing for Action group that's being set up because it creates a huge potential for government corruption where basically corporations and other wealthy donors can fund this new group that can be a partner organization that is basically working on Obama's agenda," Karen Hobert Flynn, senior vice president for policy and program at Common Cause, told The Hill. "It invites through a back door special interest influence and access and it's a step in the wrong direction."

Among the concerns is the practice of spending dark money on elections.

Dark money is a term used to describe political spending by innocuously named groups whose own donors - the source of the money - is allowed to remain hidden because of loopholes in disclosure laws.

Most of the dark money making its way into politics comes not from campaigns themselves but outside groups including nonprofit 501[c] groups or social welfare organizations that are spending tens of millions of dollars.

Those groups are required to report how much they spend trying to influence elections. But under the Internal Revenue Service code, 501[c] and social welfare organizations are not required to tell the government or public from whom they get their money. That means they can spend money on electioneering or make contributions to super PACs without naming names of individual donors.

"What's most troubling is that President Obama seems to have developed a tin ear about shadow money in politics," opined The Washington Post editorial board. "In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United campaign-finance case, Mr. Obama warned of 'a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics.'

"Why, then, is he opening a cashier's window with his name on it for the same special interests? The president and his team may be wizards at social media and grass-roots organizing, but from an influence-peddling standpoint this organization looks to be fraught with hazard."

Said Obama after the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United: "With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said.

Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, called on Obama to shut down the new social welfare group.

"Functioning as a virtual arm of the Obama presidency, Organizing for Action will solicit and accept money from corporations and other special interests seeking to influence Obama Administration decisions," Wertheimer wrote on The Huffington Post. "What happened to the president who warned us about the dangers of corporate money in the American political system?"

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