President Barack Obama has apparently had an about face in his thinking about the influence of large corporations in American politics as he moves to create a nonprofit outreach group with links to special interests.
Within days of the his second inauguration, Obama's new political group, Organizing for America, began seeking corporate backing and establishing ties with big-money, liberal organizations, according to a report Friday in Politico
The tax-exempt, nonprofit grew out of Obama’s presidential campaign operation and has the express purpose of promoting his second-term agenda and advocating on key issues such as gun control and immigration.
The president’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, will serve as the nonprofit's national chairman, while former White House aide Jon Carson will be its executive director, Politico reported.
Obama initially declared that Organizing for America would be funded by grassroots activists, but none were in attendance at the invitation-only unveiling of the group at the Newseum on Saturday. The “Road Ahead” meeting, as it was called, was sponsored by Business Forward, a trade association allied with the White House. Business Forward is funded by major corporations including Microsoft, Walmart, and PG&E, all of whom were represented at the event by senior executives.
Messina and Carson pleaded with the guests to support the outreach effort, according to a Politico reporter who attended the event.
“We need you. This president needs you,” said Messina, adding that the organization is “building a national advisory board filled with people in this room.” Carson told the donors, “There’s going to be a place for each and every one of you.”
In response to the meeting, Fred Wertheimer, head of the political watchdog group Democracy 21, issued a statement saying, “President Obama has set out on a dangerous and unprecedented path as he begins his second term in office. The new organization has the stated purpose of advocating the President’s agenda and will accept unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals to pursue this goal.”
“As far as I know, this is the first time a President has outsourced an important responsibility of his presidency to a private sector organization that is financed by unlimited private funds and that is, in effect, operating as an arm of the presidency,” he continued.
“In taking this step, the President has opted for the ends justify the means approach that is fraught with danger. It opens the door to opportunities for government corruption, by allowing corporations and individuals to provide unlimited amounts of money to directly benefit the President’s interests and potentially to receive government benefits and favors in return.”
Added Wertheimer, “This would take President Obama about as far away as he could possibly get from the goal he set in 2008 to “change the way business is done in Washington.” He urged Obama to immediately shut down Organizing for Action.
As for the grassroots activists shut out of the unveiling on Saturday, they were allowed to attend an open meeting at the Washington Hilton on Sunday called the “Obama Campaign Legacy Conference." Carson told reporters that Organizing for America would “absolutely” be funded mostly by grassroots donors like those Obama highlighted in his campaign.
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