For evidence that the permanent campaign has become embedded in our national life, look no further than President Barack Obama’s recent announcement that he is setting up a group to keep his supporters energized and enrolled for action in a second term. To be called Organizing for Action, the group will harvest the rich data — emails and names — of the Obama foot soldiers who knocked on doors and got out the vote.
The group will be tax-exempt under Section 501(c)4 of the Internal Revenue Code. This category is intended for social welfare organizations, and if the Obama team sticks to organizing and talking about issues, there’s nothing wrong with that. But in the past election cycle, a number of dark-money campaign groups took advantage of the fact that 501(c)4 does not require them to disclose their donors to the public. The Obama team says that it will disclose. It is a promise but entirely voluntary.
A second worry is that the Obama team is willing to accept corporate money. While officials say that the group won’t accept cash from political action committees and lobbyists, they apparently welcome companies and individuals making donations.
A third minefield is what role Organizing for Action might play in election campaigns. Under the law, a 501(c)4 group can engage in some electoral politics, but that can’t be its “primary” purpose. As we’ve noted, several organizations appear to have abused this standard in 2012 by spending heavily for political advertising to support candidates. Is the president now creating an apparatus that could do the same?
The president and his team may be wizards at social media and grassroots organizing but, from an influence-peddling standpoint, this organization looks to be fraught with hazard.
The Washington Post (Jan. 28)