Organizing for Action, President Obama’s new political group aimed at promoting his policy agenda, was unveiled two weeks ago. Despite its “grassroots” claims, OFA immediately sought the big-money fertilizer that its previous iterations so frequently decried. According to a Politico report, corporate donors such as Lockheed Martin and Citi are already involved in support. A closed-door affair also sought the support of rich donors who gave generously to Obama’s reelection campaign. The ethical dilemmas of unlimited donations, and what those donations expect in return, were apparent but ignored: After soliciting their support, OFA’s national chairman told big donors that they were “building a national advisory board filled with people in this room.” Those who attended a grassroots meeting the next day were not offered these high level positions of influence.
Organizing for America is filed as a 501(c)4 non-profit. With its tax code and “social welfare purpose,” there is little doubt that it will operate as a dark money group. Though it doesn’t allow donations from registered lobbyists, it does not preclude the unlimited, undisclosed corporate donations allowed by the 2010 Citizens United ruling. Unlike Friends of Democracy, an anti-super PAC super PAC, Organizing for Action is not so much fighting fire with fire as it is simply giving up. The OFA Statement of Purpose makes no mention campaign finance reform. Changing the structure of Washington is not only a challenge President Obama has failed, but one he now fails to even address.
While it’s true that there are a myriad of pressing policy issues which are more easily addressed than the ostensibly intractable influence of corporate lobbyists, as President Obama said in The Audacity of Hope, “If we aren’t willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren’t willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all.” For a man who claimed a few years ago, "I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over…they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president," this silent surrender is a betrayal of his values as well as ours. Reticence and retreat are not behaviors befitting the leader of the free world. He owes it to Americans of all political stripes to continue fighting the corruption that stymies our ability to fight for ourselves. He needs to ensure that this issue remains front and center. He needs to work in accordance with the values he strives for. The only thing worse than window dressing when it comes to ethics reform is window dressing when it comes to democracy.