Organizing for Action in Hot Water Over Disclosure Promise

organizing for action credit: Daniel Schwen[/caption]

The Center for Public Integrity revealed the disclosure plans for the political group, Organizing for Action (OFA), on Thursday. Voluntary disclosure on the part of donors will not include employment information, making it difficult to verify how well OFA holds to new claims it would not take money from lobbyists or non-citizens.

Despite collecting the information in their online donation form, employment disclosures will not accompany records when made public, but will include the names of all donors who contribute over $250.

Organizing for Action was originally Barack Obama’s campaign committee, Obama for America, opening up the organization to significant criticism. OFA came under heavy fire after news broke it would require donors to raise $500,000 to meet with the president in quarterly briefings, an assertion which OFA denies outright.

Organizing for Action’s national chairman, Jim Messina, attempted to quell concerns over ethics, transparency and accountability earlier this month. He announced a policy change wherein donors would be disclosed and donations would not be accepted from corporations and lobbyists.

As a 501(c)4 ‘social welfare’ organization, neither are required by law. The only legal limitation on OFA’s political activity is that the group cannot directly work to influence the election of a candidate.

Nevertheless, watchdog groups like the Campaign Legal Center and Common Cause are not convinced that the connections between the president and the non-profit don’t present opportunity for exploitation. OFA currently manages Obama’s social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Obama addressed such concerns, at least in part, at a founders meeting last week:

“I think here in Washington this idea has been viewed with puzzle[ment]… because the usual idea is well this must be a mechanism to try to win the next election in 2014. And what we’ve tried to explain to people is, is that, no, I actually just want to govern. At least for a couple of years, but i also want to make sure the voices of ordinary people are heard in the debates that are going to be taking place.”

As reported, the disclosure model for Organizing for Action leaves much to be desired in the way of independent accountability and transparency, which raises a number of questions since the group has already mobilized millions of supporters to promote the president’s agenda. Recent efforts include pressuring lawmakers on immigration reform, gun control, marriage equality, and the budget.

Although any disclosure of donors is more than similar political ‘social welfare’ organizations, like Crossroads GPS, provide, OFA is in a unique position given its past connection to the president. Since many in the organization made up his former campaign committee, non-partisan organizations like the Center for Public Integrity are not taking OFA’s word that transparency and accountability are guaranteed.