Democrats Now Serve Two Masters: DNC and Organizing for Action

Can the Democratic Party — rarely a smoothly coordinated creature — function when two different outfits in two different cities are trying to run the show?

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Yuri Gripas / REUTERS

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Organizing for Action dinner in Washington, March 13, 2013.

Can the Democratic Party – rarely a smoothly coordinated creature for starters — function when two different outfits in two different cities are trying to run the show?

The Democratic National Committee is undergoing a recalibration as it learns to live with President Barack Obama’s permanent political presence – the independent issues group Organizing for Action that spun-off from the president’s re-election. Once vertically aligned in party flow chart, the two organizations are now co-equals with Obama at the head – independent organizations that some worry will fight for resources and attention from the president and supporters.

OFA, which transformed itself into an advocacy group in the months since the election and has spent months testing the waters and recruiting staff, is now fully operational. The incessant fundraising and volunteer emails are back. The organization completed its second day of nation-wide events targeted around gun control on Thursday, and is turning its efforts back to immigration reform this week.

When the 2008 Obama campaign ended, it was folded into the DNC as Organizing for America, with the purpose of mobilizing Obama’s base for health care reform and other administration initiatives.  But the effort was a financial drain for the party, prompting the unprecedented formation of an enduring grassroots campaign for the president’s agenda as a 501c(4) this January. The move has prompted a shift in focus for the Democratic National Committee back to its traditional role of winning elections.

“We’re the political arm of the president now that there is no campaign. OFA is exclusively on the issues side,” said DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse, explaining the division of labor. OFA is prohibited from advocating directly for a candidate or party. “The DNC is really on the political side.” Or as Carl Chidlow, the DNC finance director from 2005-9 put it, “[In off years] the DNC is essentially a megaphone and a bank account.”

And free from the burdens of building and maintaining a grassroots army, the DNC is now “hyper-focused” on its political tasks – with an emphasis right out of the gate on voter protection issues, Woodhouse said.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges.

Financing: The Democratic National Committee is nearly $22 million in debt, largely the result of a $15 million loan due next June taken shortly after the Democratic Convention last year. The borrowing isn’t unprecedented – the party took out a $15 million loan during the 2010 cycle as well – but the competition for fundraising with the new Obama organization has some state party officials worried. With Obama safely in office for four more years, they wonder if the national party can convert Obama donors to give to the Democratic Party. None would speak on the record citing relationships with the DNC and the Obama campaign.

“The fear seems to be that donors will feel like they’ve already tithed for the church,” Chidlow said. “We haven’t’ seen that yet.”

But DNC officials stress that the new arrangement is an asset not a drag on performance. Jordan Kaplan, one of Obama’s earliest fundraisers, joined the DNC in February as finance director – and after only fundraising for his new organization since the election, Obama committed to a half-dozen fundraisers for the party including several in California this week.

“The RNC made the decision — and the Romney campaign — made the decision not to spend all their money and lost,” Woodhouse said, responding to critics — especially Republicans who’ve taken potshots at the DNC over the borrowing. “We went into debt and won. I’d rather be us than them.”

Woodhouse said that efforts are underway to recruit more Obama donors to become traditional donors to the DNC — with an emphasis on keeping them involved in the party’s operations much in the way Obama kept his financial backers in the loop on the campaign.

“We want to keep regular contact with donors — not just contact when we want a check,” he said. “It is important to have that relationship with Obama donors.”

Technology: The former Obama campaign maintains control over its vaunted Project Narwhal, which combined data from once-separate sources like emails, form responses, and volunteer activity with donor data and the Democratic Party’s voter file. Narwhal allowed the campaign to identify those supporters most likely to volunteer, donate or make phone calls. Much of the underlying data — the records of the millions of Obama campaign supporters — remains with the dormant Obama campaign and not the DNC.

To date, only OFA has been allowed to use the list, but in a sign that Obama is likely to allow it to be used for campaign purposes by other organizations, it was leased — not transferred — to OFA, where it would be prohibited from campaign usage.

Correction appended: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Democratic National Committee has gained ownership over Project Narwhal. In fact, Bryan Whitaker, DNC Technology Director, said, “The DNC does not own or control Narwhal.” Discussions regarding the future of Obama campaign-generated data and technology are ongoing.

41 comments
mikeconlow
mikeconlow

@WhitakerDNC Plus cred to them for actually correcting it. Minus cred for running something originally they couldn't possibly have verified

ShirleyFuhriman
ShirleyFuhriman

Voter protection issues?  Ha!  They are too funny -- they mean they are focused on making sure there is no integrity to the voting process.....  

SoCalJohnnie
SoCalJohnnie

I would love to see public funding of elections...but I'm not going to sign a suicide  pact and be defeated by the tea-baggers again.  Donate a small amount , only if you can.  $5 a month?  Screen your calls...I don't need 3/4 of the calls I get. 

The tea-publicans/ neo-cons  destroyed the financial system, the banking system and the housing market before they were thrown out in 2008.   Don't let them do it again...



Read more: http://swampland.time.com/2013/04/01/democrats-serve-two-masters-dnc-and-organizing-for-action/#ixzz2PGFf44jT

Paul,nnto
Paul,nnto

"Democrats split!" Not really but it's a nice storyline. 

 "Another Democrat tries to catch up with popular opinion"

"BHO is bad at basketball" With video proof!

"Something about movies"

Today's Swampland. 


sremani
sremani

I have donated lets say some 3 digit figure to Obama campaign and couple of hundred to DCCC, Dem Senate CC and LCV, Planned parenthood. Every day my phone lights up like a christmas tree because of calls from Democratic groups, this campaign is never dying. If I commit suicide, I hold the Democratic campaign machine for making me go crazy with their never ending calls. Stop this non-sense, save your money and starve the campaign beast no matter what party you belong to.

SoCalJohnnie
SoCalJohnnie

Remember, most of the donations to the Presidential campaign were under $50.  I tell people to donate $5 a week, the price of a coffee at Starbucks.

 As a field organizer in Iowa, we defeated a local candidate who's issue was..."The United Nations is going to invade and take over the United States...."... an issue from 50 years ago!  I told the guy..."Let's try and keep up with current events..."  This is the type of people we are up against.  They are  anti -woman, anti-black & brown,  anti- youth and anti-science.

 So send your small donations to the DNC, the DCCC, OFA.  It's going to take awhile, but we will continue to organize and we will continue to defeat them.  The Republicans are so far out of the main stream, they have washed ashore.

AndrewMzanze
AndrewMzanze

@TIME @TIMEPolitics Obama has redefined leadership. First term he ruled America using his greatest opponents. Now through dilution of power

ErinMurphy1
ErinMurphy1

@TIMEPolitics DNC raises money, supports Congressional races. OFA 2.0 organizes issue advocacy, something we have long needed in off years.

AKDBBmmC
AKDBBmmC

@TIME @TIMEPolitics They can't function no matter who is running the show..or how many. They are a stupid, disfunctional party.

gwlor
gwlor

@TIME @TIMEPolitics @gwlor IN a ONE party system , one man one vote , electrorate , proportionally only ONE party rules .....the amendment

ChadPortenga
ChadPortenga

Financing: The Democratic National Committee is nearly $22 million in debt, largely the result of a $15 million loan due next June taken shortly after the Democratic Convention last year.

They seem to be good at racking up debt. Why stop now?

grape_crush
grape_crush

> “[In off years] the DNC is essentially a megaphone and a bank account.”

And that's what hurt the Democratic party. There was little or no advocacy of Dem or center-leftist priorities to the public and no policy wing hooked into an activist base. Something which the GOP has been doing for at least a couple of decades, even if their techniques for getting the word out were stuck in 1984.

> The DNC is now in possession of the Obama campaign’s vaunted Project Narwhal...

Right now, the DNC enjoys a technological advantage that allows them to better insight into the heads of their supporters. If Narwhal isn't invested in and improved upon - Narwhal 2.0 - that lead will be erased, and quickly. The GOP won't stand still and will have little problem devoting the resources to come up to speed.

OFA is a tool, and is beholden to the DNC now. This 'serving of two masters' is a figment of the author's imagination.

> "OFA is exclusively on the issues side..”

Great. So who decides what the issues are and what the approach is for solving them? 

That's the real problem here, the real  'two masters.' And it's not a new one for the Democratic party.

If OFA is used to push the DNC's big money contributors' agenda, it will upset the activist base. If it is used to push the more lefty aspects of the activist base, you p!ss off the big money donors.


roknsteve
roknsteve

Is this an April Fools Joke Zeke?  If not you need better ideas. 

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Zeke. Compared to Republican infighting (Tea Party vs. RINO's, Armey vs. Freedomworks, etc, this Democratic division is pattycakes. The group I'd like to watch is Priorities USA Action, if they're still active (at least the website is). They probably won the election for Obama by creating the grand slam "Stage" ad that crushed Romney in the Midwest, esp. Ohio. I hope they'll stay busy to help win back Congress for the D's in '14.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/obama-super-pac-election-ohio-priorities-usa-action

sacredh
sacredh

"The DNC is now in possession of the Obama campaign’s vaunted Project Narwhal, which combined data from once-separate sources like emails, form responses, and volunteer activity with donor data and the Democratic Party’s voter file."

I think the RNC would kill to have "problems" like the democrats have. The republicans are fighting a civil within their ranks. The democrats are competing for dollars and attention. 

BabyFinster
BabyFinster

@SoCalJohnnie Do you have a clue what you're talking about?  Writing that level of ignorance on multiple subjects should be provided to some comedy sight.  This is a place for educated debate.

BabyFinster
BabyFinster

@sremani Why would you embarrass yourself by admitting this on a public forum?  The only way to run a socialist government is to break up everyone into little groups of needy comrades.  Hence all of the phone calls. Thats the democrat party strategy for years now.  Everyone is pathetic and has a gripe and a cause against someone who has something they don't.  Your party will continue to cannibalize each others desperate causes.  It's really quite funny to watch.  But it's also disgusting to actually read someone contributes to Planned Parenthood knowing they'll spend your money killing a baby.  Its bad enough liberals force our government to give our hard earned tax money to planned parenthood but thats mainly because no one SHOULD feel comfortable writing that kind of check.

sremani "How much do you need?" Planned Parenthood "Well, we're killing a lot of babies these days" PP"Can you spare $500?"  sremani "how about a grand?" PP"wow what a great american you are"

tommyudo
tommyudo

@SoCalJohnnie 


I dropped $50 to the Obama re-election campaign late last Summer, and I now receive DNC letters about every other week asking for more dough. I'm from the Democratic wing of the party, so until they start getting some of these red state Dems in line on gun control I'm not giving them another penny. Reed, Pelosi, Hoyer, et al are pretty useless, imo.

Tero
Tero

@MarcoRaymond777 @TIME @TIMEPolitics

"NOT ALL AMERICANS ARE DUMB IDIOTS."

Says the guy typing in all caps about the "illuminati"...

ParthaNeogy
ParthaNeogy

@grape_crush  "...even if their (GOP's) techniques for getting the word out are stuck in 1984."


Heh!Heh!

sacredh
sacredh

deconstructiva, that ad killed Romney in Ohio.

bobell
bobell

@sacredh True enough. But the one place the GOP has it all over the Dems is in fund-raising.  If OFA keeps the DNC from paying off its debt and raising new money for 2014, the GOP could take back the Senate and possibly obstruct the few efforts by House leadership (mainly Boehner) to pass an occasional sensible law with the aid of the Dems.

The 2014 election is shaping up as a critical test for the country. If it goes like 2010, it could be down the tubes for an entire generation.

sremani
sremani

@tommyudo @SoCalJohnnie I hear you, I just have a sense, there are lot of people making careers out of this campaigning that is the reason people were wondering about 2016 when Obama was swearing. This insanity has to stop, I do not know about Republicans - but Democrats have to stop treating their donors esp. those who give modest amounts like ATM machines.

sacredh
sacredh

bobell, the money didn't mean much to Rove's efforts because of the candidates they ran. Now they're fighting amongst themselves over the electablity of who they should nominate. There are so many variables now that I think it's almost impossible to handicap races. I still think republicans will pick up seats in 2014. I'm a little reassured by their fighting though.

tommyudo
tommyudo

@sremani @tommyudo @SoCalJohnnie 


The  DNC takes into account the law of averages. For every 100 letters sent out you will have a handful of people sending in donations. More than enough to recoup postage. As for the GOP , the hierarchy have their own problems with the racists and bigots that make up their base, so let them stew.