Obama Team Rolls Out Special Interest to Fight Special Interests

Organizing for Action, President Obama's new special interest operation says it will counter K Street lobbyists.

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John Gress/ REUTERS

Former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina

The first rule of political organizing is to find a bad guy and rally people to stop him. For Barack Obama, the country’s most successful political organizer, the bad guys have always been monied special interests in Washington and the Republicans they influence. Now that his advisers are creating their own special interest operation, a $50 million grassroots group called Organizing for Action (OFA), none of that has changed.

“The President always believed that the special interests had undue influence over the policy making,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s former campaign manager and the chairman of the new group at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington on Wednesday. “The mission of this organization is to restore that balance.”

Messina spoke those words at the start of a two-day founder’s conference for OFA that will culminate tonight with a dinner that includes President Obama, high-dollar donors and volunteers. Most of the proceedings will take place behind closed doors, in much the same way other special interests in Washington carry out their fundraising. But in the opening hour of the event, which was open to the press, former Obama officials argued that their special interest effort will be entirely different than other special interest efforts. “Special interests shouldn’t have a stranglehold over the policy process,” Messina continued. “Instead of change coming from paid lobbysist on K Street change is going to come from ordinary Americans.”

Just how OFA will be different from other special interest groups looking to change Washington remains to be seen. The people leading the effort say they will be more transparent than many other groups in town, voluntarily disclosing on a quarterly basis all donations over $250. They will also refuse contributions from corporations, foreign citizens and lobbyists. But they will accept unlimited donations from individuals, unions and other non-profit organizations, like foundations, which make up a significant part of the special interest money that sloshes around Washington D.C. every year. Those donors will have special access to briefings, like the events this week in Washington, with government officials, though staff says volunteers and grassroots organizers will also be included in all activities. “This is something that should be celebrated, not criticized,” said David Plouffe, a former top White House and campaign strategist for Obama.

OFA may also differ in the size of its grassroots army, which it has inherited from Obama’s 2012 campaign. In the briefing Wednesday, officials with the new group laid out some numbers: Over 10,000 neighborhood team captains, 1,200 watch parties organized for the most recent State of the Union Address, over 100 events in recent weeks asking members of Congress to support greater gun control, 1.1 million people who have “done at least one volunteer action,” since the campaign ended, though “sending a tweet” counted as a volunteer action.

In other ways, however, OFA will function much like any other large advocacy group trying to influence politics in Washington, with an immediate focus on issues like gun control, immigration reform and climate change. Messina cited the National Rifle Association (NRA) and various “shady” hardline immigration groups as examples of the special interests they will oppose. Like the new OFA, the NRA is a large, grassroots membership driven organization focused on influencing policy in Washington. But for Obama’s former aides, there was no comparison. “We can’t afford business as usual,” said Messina. “That time has passed.”

Shortly afterwards, reporters were asked to clear the room. In addition to a meeting with Obama, participants in the two day conference are expected to get briefings from former Obama campaign advisers Stephanie Cutter and Ben Labolt, from former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

23 comments
JoanneCCBC
JoanneCCBC

OFA, a new special interest group. Okay, it doesn't sound that bad with the main issues for them are the same as Obama's gun control, immigration reform, and climate changes. This seems like a pretty go group actually, I do not oppose what it is doing. There always needs to be a hero when "we" have so many bad guys against us, monied special interests and the Republicans they influence. This special interest is different, this is a change. I find it particularly funny that they need to explain that this change is coming from the ordinary American and not the paid lobbyist on K street. Thanks. If they need this to work so much though how come they are refusing money from corporations, foreign citizens, etc? If funding is going to keep this group afloat wouldn't anyone want to get as much money, they change is going to happen and if people want to contribute that means maybe they believe something in this special interest. We shall see what happens, its understood that they are a growing group just as much as the NRA. What could it hurt to add another group to maybe influence politics.

LPFan
LPFan

It's great to see this.  There are so many stories on the symptoms of government problems that we have lost focus on the cause, which is rooted in excess influence by special interests. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNl8rI7UOCQ

MrBenGhazi
MrBenGhazi

"But they will accept unlimited donations from individuals, unions..."

I'm not sure when unions became wonderful and businesses became the bane of mankind, but the last time I checked businesses employ people, not unions. Also, the last time I checked, union bosses set union policy, not their members. How is allowing unions to donate on higher moral ground than allowing corporations to donate? It's not.

This is just more evidence that while the Republicans are in bed with big business, the Democrats are in bed with big unions, and I can't decide which is worse.

4714026
4714026

great - a new skunkworks group, that includes Google of course

Google still uses their "news management" software that supresses stories and comments which are critical of Obama

no doubt Buh-rock really appreciates that !   that's very nice of Google to do that

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Just how OFA will be different from other special interest groups looking to change Washington remains to be seen."

Being a member in good standing of the Beltway hackery that can't be bothered to distinguish between Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security - they're all just "entitlements" - I can't say I'm very surprised. If you can't tell the difference between oil companies, gun manufacturers, defense contractors and other corporate "persons" and teachers, firefighers and other union workers, you know, people, perhaps you should seek a profession more consistent with your intellectual capacities. Oh, right.

ParthaNeogy
ParthaNeogy

"Obama team rolls out special interest to fight special interest."

Where do you draw the line on special interests?  Would advocating for "truth, justice and the American way" constitute special interest in your book?

reallife
reallife

This is Obama's idea of creating jobs. Way to go!

drudown
drudown

Let me get this straight. The author asks with a straight face “just how OFA will be different from other special interest groups…remains to be seen” only to acknowledge that the OFA will “refuse contributions from corporations, foreign citizens and lobbyists.” 

Doesn’t he answer his own question?

TyPollard
TyPollard

I get the irony of this but this has been a one sided "war" for too long. 

This is good.

LPFan
LPFan

@ZacPetit Agreed - why unions?  It doesn't make sense to exclude corporation and yet allow unions.  Which is worse? It's basically a tie.

roknsteve
roknsteve

@ZacPetit Well, isn't that special!  So you got big bad unions under your bed?  Did you learn that from Grimm's Fairy Tales?

MrBenGhazi
MrBenGhazi

@4714026 Hey 4714026, your comment is critical of Obama. Why did Google allow it?

drudown
drudown

@4714026 

The GOP coddles terrorists like al-Awlaki 

As peasants' unthreshed corn sparks with fire:

You'd turn fact to fiction and pronounce 

"trickle down economics" 

with the sincerity

of a liar.

4714026
4714026

the Fed is Buh-rock's skunkworks to "manage" the stock market ---- why not, with the Fed's "emergency powers" every day can be an emergency !   why not, right Buh-rock ?    every day can be an emergency !    (if it helps Buh-rock and world socialism that is)

JPMorganChase is Buh-rock's skunkworks to "manage" big corporations ---- since JPM controls the derivatives market thanks to their sacred cow relationship with the Fed, and the Buh-rock people have learned how to use these two interconnected levers ---- when you add the Fed into the mix and JPMorganChase is in your hip pocket Buh-rock - i n  y o u r  h i p  p o c k e t ..... isn't that a great thing for America ----- and it really helped to "punish Boeing" in the recent American Airlines bankruptcy fiasco .... a total fiasco where no competitive bidding was even allowed ---- JPMorganChase and their harem of $1500/hour lawyers made sure of that !

and Google is Buh-rock's skunkworks to "manage" the news and the internet media

that's really something - he's become a great manager !

but wait a minute !  ..... all those things are illegal for the President to do

.... wait a minute now, all those things are illegal for the President to do

TyPollard
TyPollard

@drudown 

It's Michael's raison d'etre to be sophomorically cynical of all things...except John McCain.

4714026
4714026

you can make a joke of it if you want, I don't if you do or if you don't

it was a stupid joke though

they actually do what I said they do - and given the friendship of Herr Commadant Bu-Rock and the Chief Nazi Sxhmidt over there at Google, it is actually rather disconcerting that this kind of censorship would be implemented

speaking with his trademark forked tongue, Buh-rock has wiped his feet on this nation, and continues to wipe his feet on this nation, and he made a special point of spitting in the face of America's Jews and the world's Jews, which is kind of rotten in light of the fact they have been picked on pretty badly over the years ---- it is some kind of badge of honor for the radical black community to really "give it to the Jews" notwithstanding the fact that a lot of the civil rights people were Jews, but they don't care now that they got what they want ---- why not spit on them Buh-rock, now that you're President - who could stop you, right ?

Zac - who is your friend Buh-rock, really ?   half Black Panther and half Communist with all the operational protocols to match.....pretty disgusting actually, pretty disgusting, a real con artist, one very bad news individual

drudown
drudown

@4714026 

Your nonsensical gibberish is about as illogical as your GOP farce that "cutting taxes raises revenue"...

But keep throwing non sequiturs against the wall, maybe it will serve as a distraction for how much better we all are now.

Well besides the 47 million on food stamps thanks to the Bush Era....

drudown
drudown

@TyPollardd

So much for the theory that "even a blind dog finds a bone."

4714026
4714026

sometimes when people do not like facts, they call them things like nonsense, jibberish - whatever

it is a fact - Buh-rock uses the Fed's emergency powers as ongoing policy tools for controlling the stock market

it is a fact - Buh-rock uses JPMorganChase as his hip-pocket bank

it is a fact - Google uses news management software to suppress and filter out stories and comments that oppose the Obama camp

all the GOP and Tea Party want is a stronger and better American economy - for everybody, on a fair and equal basis, based on merit, work effort, and objective things like that

the "normal" or non-governmental economy is being smothered by government debt

government debt has become the single most important economic factor in the whole world

that's not good, and it's not the work of the GOP either

it has to be cut down, along with government spending