The importance of this announcement is clearly underlined by the First Lady’s new haircut and Zac Posen burnout drop-waist dress, and by the emails filling up spam folders across the country, all cleverly tailored to appeal to target demographics. The move, as noted by Buzzfeed, is a replay of an Obama-pos-2008 move to put his grassroots volunteer operation into action that was quickly quashed after it flooded the DNC with emails, phone calls and faxes seeking to push the party’s agenda further leftward.
This new item, though, comes with a super-special secret surprise. It’s organized as a 501(c)(4), rather than as a SuperPAC or as a 501(c)(3), so while donations to OFA won’t be tax deductible, they will be hidden from the public eye.
But there’s a rub: Organizing for Action will be formed under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, and will not be required to disclose its donors. (The Los Angeles Times first reported this.) For context, Karl Rove’s dark-money juggernaut, Crossroads GPS, is a 501(c)(4), as is the Koch-backed national conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The decision to make Organizing for Action a dark-money nonprofit makes sense strategy-wise: as a nonprofit the new group can meet and coordinate with members of the Obama White House, which it couldn’t do as a super-PAC. But the decision flies in the face of Obama and the Democrats’ supposed commitment to transparency.
Actually, that’s not the only notable difference between a 501(c)(4) and a SuperPAC. SuperPACs still have to disclose their donors and how they spend their money in a timely fashion. A 501(c)(4) still has to disclose its spending, but not until well after the checks have been written, and likely not until after the projects are completed. It’s hypocritical, to be sure, but the announcement even has spectacular comedic timing, as Obama is likely about to mandate corporate political donors reveal all their contributions through the SEC.
OFA is saying that they’ll be transparent with their donors, release the names, won’t accept money from lobbyists, yadda yadda, but there are no guarantees, and it’s not like the Obama Administration hasn’t found creative ways to get around their own high-minded proclamations before (including the one about not taking cash from lobbyists). And it’s kind of tough to trust an organization that the Democrats themselves are worried about. Because, as it turns out, supporting the President’s agenda through the grassroots is the DNC’s job and OFA’s lists of volunteers could be very useful to that operation. But OFA doesn’t see turning over it’s proprietary data as all that urgent, especially considering that Obama doesn’t have any more elections to win.
Then again, if Debbie Wasserman Schultz was in charge of your operation, you’d probably keep things close, too.