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Pro-Obama group says it's not partisan, but has wide latitude

February 07, 2013|By Matea Gold
  • President Obama arrives to speak during the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Va.
President Obama arrives to speak during the House Democratic Issues Conference… (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON — A new advocacy organization formed to channel grass-roots energy in support of President Obama’s legislative agenda says it will not engage in partisan political activity or lobbying as it pushes for gun control, immigration reform and better environmental safeguards.

In a new web posting, Organizing for Action stated that neither it not its local chapters “will be involved in any way in elections or partisan political activity. Its exclusive purpose is public policy advocacy and development, and in particular, both enactment of President Obama's legislative agenda and the identification and advancement of other goals for progressive change at the state and local level.”

The group said it is not working in alliance with the Democratic National Committee. “OFA is not a partisan political organization and will not engage in electoral activity with any partisan political organization,” according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” statement posted on barackobama.com, the president’s former campaign website that is now home to OFA.

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In addition, the organization said it “will not directly lobby elected officials on behalf of the policies it supports, nor will it hire lobbyists to do so.”

Still, the structure of Organizing for Action – which was set up last month by the president’s top political advisors – gives it wide room to maneuver. It was formed as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization, under the same Internal Revenue Service code as conservative advocacy groups such as Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, which spent tens of millions of dollars on “issue ads” pounding Obama during the 2012 election. Such tax-exempt advocacy groups are also allowed to do a limited amount of explicitly political activity.

Obama’s decision to roll his campaign into a 501(c)4 organization that will take unlimited contributions – including money from corporations -- has drawn sharp condemnation from campaign finance reform advocates, who have lambasted the move as a capitulation by Obama to big money in politics. And he has been mocked by critics such as Americans for Prosperity – a group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers that advocates for the free market and limited government -- which released a web ad last week taunting him as a hypocrite.

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OFA officials have said that the group will not accept money from registered lobbyists or political action committees and that it will disclose its donors, even though such reporting is not required by law.

But how regularly that will occur remains to be seen. The statement on OFA’s website said that the group will “post these disclosures to its website on a schedule to be announced in the near future.”

OFA also confirmed that it will draw “in part on the network, technology and volunteers” from Obama’s campaign, but said it would only do so “for its purposes of issue advocacy and mobilization of citizens in support of the president's legislative agenda.” The organization “will lease and buy assets from Obama for America as the re-election committee retires its debt and prepares to terminate,” as the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington Bureau reported last month.

Campaign officials are still studying the question of what to do with the valuable data files and technology developed by Obama’s reelection effort after the campaign committee closes its doors.

OFA will be run by former White House official Jon Carson, who is moving to Chicago, where the organization will be headquartered. For now, it has set up shop in an office building in downtown Washington, just four blocks north of the White House.

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matea.gold@latimes.com

Twitter: @mateagold

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