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Obama uses campaign machine to push agenda

Supporters work at the Obama for America campaign field office in Charlottesville, Va., August 29, 2012.

Now that President Obama no longer needs to run for office, his election campaign organization is getting rebranded. The old group, known as Obama for America, will now be known as Organizing for Action. This allows President Obama to tap the campaign database and network of volunteers as he presses his policy agenda.

In a video, Organizing for Action executive director Jon Carson tries to mobilize grassroots supporters.

“Talk to your friends and neighbors about three of our biggest priorities that are coming up very quickly: immigration reform, reducing gun violence and tackling the budget in a balanced way,” says Carson.

Under the tax rules, the nonprofit is allowed to accept unlimited contributions from corporations and keep the donations secret. Officials with Organizing for Action promise, however, to make donor list public.

But the funding still raises issues for some government watchdogs, like Paul Seamus Ryan, senior counsel with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

“Any time you have public officials raising big contributions from business, or from individuals, or from organized labor, for that matter, the concern is the money will sway the public-decision-maker’s actions,” Ryan says.

Former Vermont governor and Democratic party leader Howard Dean expects that Organizing for Action will solicit some of the tried-and-true Obama campaign funders.

“I would imagine that he would go to the same Democratic donors that he went to to win his election. There’s some people, a lot of people out there who deeply believe in his agenda and they want to support it,” Dean says.

He has no issue with raising money from individuals.

“The idea that this is really meant to somehow buy influence is pretty silly. Because this is not advancing the president’s election. What this is advancing is his agenda,” Dean says.

But he hopes the nonprofit won’t accept money from corporations.

“When corporations get involved in donating to politics, their consumer-base gets upset, which is not good for business, and it does lead to difficult perceptions,” he notes.

Organizing for Action doesn’t need any donations to get started. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Obama campaign still has about $5 million left over.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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