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Keeping Obama's machine -- and mailing list -- going

Tonight, President Obama speaks to the non-profit group, Organizing, for America, which some have described as the president's never-ending campaign. Where is the money behind the organization coming from?

On Wednesday night, President Obama speaks to big money donors and activists at an event for Organizing for Action, the group former top Obama aides run to support the President’s political agenda. Tickets went for $50,000 per person. OFA is a 501(c)(4) group, so it’s able to raise unlimited money, without telling where it comes from.

Dark money groups are nothing new on the left or right. They spent a fortune in the last election. But this one’s got something special.

“The problem is they’re a dark money group with a direct tie to the president,” says Lisa Rosenberg of the open government group Sunlight Foundation. “It’s an opportunity to sell access to the president to the highest bidder.”

Rosenberg and many like her have been sounding the alarm about a new wave of money in politics since Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling declaring open season on political spending by corporations and unions. President Obama joined the chorus during his 2010 State of the Union speech, prompting Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to famously shake his head from his second row seat.

Critics cried hypocrisy when the OFA launched. In response, the organization recently said it won’t take corporate, foreign or lobbyist money, and it promises some quarterly disclosure. But critics say the disclosure is disturbingly infrequent and incomplete.

“We will never really know if they are disclosing what they say they’re going to be disclosing,” says Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Because 501(c)(4)s aren’t required to disclose their donors.”

Her group tracks money in politics, something made increasingly difficult by the explosive growth of dark money groups. But, following the money is a growth industry.

Mark Garrison: These organizations are nothing new, but OFA has something special.

Lisa Rosenberg: The problem is they’re a dark money group with a direct tie to the President.

Lisa Rosenberg is with the Sunlight Foundation.

Rosenberg: It’s an opportunity to sell access to the President to the highest bidder with really minimal disclosure.

Of course an open government activist would complain. But so did this guy.

President Obama: I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests.

At the 2010 State of the Union, the President attacked the Supreme Court ruling that allowed unlimited corporate and union political spending. Responding to criticism, OFA said it won’t take corporate, foreign or lobbyist money. And it promises to ID big donors.

Viveca Novak: We will never really know if they are disclosing what they say they’re going to be disclosing because 501(c)(4)s aren’t required to disclose their donors.

Viveca Novak is with the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money. Her field is a growth industry. I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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