March 7, 2013; Source: Washington Post

Organizing for Action (OFA), the 501(c)(4) nonprofit social welfare group organized and run by former advisors to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, has backtracked from its plan to accept mega-donations from corporations. The initial decision to welcome corporate cash had come under fire from advocacy groups such as Common Cause. Previously, OFA had said that it would accept corporate donations and would only list donation amounts within a broad range. Yesterday, OFA announced that it will limit fundraising to individuals and labor unions and said that it will issue quarterly disclosure reports that will indentify all donors who give $250 or more along with the exact amount given. Many critics lambasted OFA’s plan to bring big money bundlers of $500,000 or more together for quarterly meetings that would be attended by the president, saying that such a move amounted to buying access to the president. OFA denied this allegation.

As NPQ has previously noted, the media firestorm surrounding OFA was swift and the sense of betrayal felt by many Obama supporters was intense. The president eschewed large corporate donations during his initial campaign for the presidency in 2008, but modified his stance for his second campaign for president and accepted corporate giving for his second inauguration this year.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the role of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations has proven to be murky. 501(c)(4)’s can raise unlimited funds and are not required to disclose donors. OFA head Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, said, “We’ll mobilize to support the president’s agenda, but we won’t do so on behalf of political candidates.” In practice, the difference may be little more than semantics if both the candidate and the nonprofit are focused on the same ends, be they (in the case of Obama and OFA) immigration reform, gun control, or climate change. Messina says OFA has nearly one million supporters and a broad national reach.

Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, which is well known for seeking transparency in politics, said he was happy that OFA has “reconsidered their initial decision to solicit corporate contributions and sell access to the president.” Edgar and his group are exhorting OFA to go the distance and rally its supporters for campaign finance reform, and he classifies OFA’s change of heart as “just a start.” –Louis Altman