WASHINGTON – In an unprecedented move, President Barack Obama’s vaunted political organization is being turned into a nonprofit group – funded in part by corporate money – to mobilize support behind the president’s second-term agenda.
Democratic officials familiar with the plan said Thursday the tax-exempt organization will be called Organizing for Action and seek to harness the energy of the president’s re-election campaign for future legislative fights. Officials said the group will be separate from the Democratic National Committee and advocate on key policy issues such as gun control and immigration, train future leaders and devote attention to local issues around the nation.
The president’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, will serve as the group’s national chairman, and White House official Jon Carson is leaving the administration to become its executive director. The officials said the organization plans to accept donations from individuals and corporations – and disclose their identities – but not take money from lobbyists and political action committees. It will have offices in Washington and Chicago, the officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans ahead of an announcement today.
Coming just days before Obama’s second inauguration, the move represents the first time a sitting president has ever transformed his presidential campaign operation into an outside group with the express purpose of promoting his agenda.
Obama campaign aides and volunteers are expected to discuss the group at a conference on Sunday focused on the future of the campaign organization and the president’s legacy.
The group’s board of directors will include several former White House and campaign aides.
White House aide David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, is expected to join the board after he leaves the administration later this month. Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod will serve as a consultant to it.
Since Obama’s re-election, one question in Democratic circles has been whether Obama would turn over his campaign operation to the DNC to build the party for the future.
After surveying its members, Obama’s re-election campaign team considered housing the organization within the DNC but decided to become a nonprofit because it was the best way for campaign volunteers to stay together as a group and advocate for issues they care about.
Yet the decision to be separate from the DNC could rile some Democrats who have grumbled that the president was more interested in protecting his own “brand,” in political speak, than in building the party.
The group will be a 501 (c) (4) under the federal tax code, which grants tax-exempt status as long as organizations are not primarily involved in activity that could influence an election. As a nonprofit, it could run ads advocating support for an issue but could not be involved in political activity aimed at electing Democratic candidates.
Campaign finance experts said the creation of a nonprofit group with close ties to the president could raise questions on how donations from corporations might influence federal policy. Craig Holman, who lobbies on ethics and campaign finance for the watchdog group Public Citizen, said if the group receives corporate and special interest money, it could “pose some very serious problems.”