Bloomberg News

Obama Converts Campaign to Nonprofit to Push Agenda

January 18, 2013

President Barack Obama is converting the machinery of his re-election campaign into a tax-exempt nonprofit group to push his second-term legislative agenda.

The new group, Organizing for Action, will be headed by Jim Messina, who served as Obama’s 2012 campaign manager. The group, separate from the Democratic National Committee, will solicit donations from corporations and individuals to augment Obama’s legislative initiatives on such issues as climate change, economic programs, reducing gun violence or overhauling immigration policy.

The organization “will be an unparalleled force in American politics,” according to an e-mail sent to supporters by the campaign under Obama’s name. “It will work to turn our shared values into legislative action.”

The transformation marks the first time a president has reconfigured the pieces of a re-election campaign into an outside group formed for the express purpose of pressuring Congress to pass the administration’s agenda.

“Organizing for Action is going to be a very effective tool to organize people all over the country for the president’s agenda,” Stephanie Cutter, who served as Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said today in an interview on MSNBC. Americans “voted for change, they voted for action and they voted for a pretty specific agenda.”

Campaign Aides

Familiar names will dominate the group’s board of directors, the Democratic official said. Besides Cutter, they include former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and top 2012 campaign aides Jennifer O’Malley-Dillon and Julianna Smoot.

Jon Carson, White House director of the Office of Public Engagement, is being tapped as executive director of the group, which will have offices in Washington and Obama’s hometown of Chicago.

David Axelrod, senior adviser to the 2012 campaign, will become a consultant. White House senior adviser David Plouffe is expected to join the group after he leaves the administration later this month, according to a Democratic official who asked for anonymity because the move hasn’t been announced.

The formation of the organization was reported earlier by the Los Angeles Times.

Election Costs

Total spending in the presidential campaign exceeded $2 billion, Federal Election Commission filings show. During that time, the Obama For America campaign compiled a grassroots juggernaut of about 12 million e-mail addresses, tapped social media platforms and developed sophisticated political tracking methods to identify voters and their interests.

Such machinery can now be used for an electronic lobbying campaign to carry Obama into the legislative fights with Congress over the next four years. The new group also will be used to “train the next generation of organizers,” Cutter said on MSNBC.

Evidence of the new efforts surfaced Jan. 17, when Messina used the leftover e-mail data bank to notify Obama supporters of the need to mobilize in support of the president’s package of measures to reduce gun violence.

“People like you spoke out and demanded action. Your input, along with ideas from leaders and policymakers across the political spectrum, went into the president’s plan,” Messina’s e-mail said.

Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to the U.S. Conference of Mayors yesterday, promised an all-out push for Obama’s proposals to reduce gun violence.

“We’re going to take this fight to the halls of Congress,” Biden said. “We’re going to take it beyond that, we’re going to take it to the American people. We’re going to go around the country making our case.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at rrunningen@bloomberg.net; Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net


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