OFA: The Organizing of AmericaBy Cindy Simpson
Other than the obvious initials "OFA" and a now-familiar circular logo, what do Obama for America 2008, Organizing for America (2009), Obama for America 2012, and now Organizing for Action all share -- and why should we care?
The Democratic National Committee is likely paying very close attention. Back in 2009, a "highly placed Democrat" took note. According to Esquire's Lisa Taddeo, in her comprehensive article on David Plouffe and his creation of Organizing for America, that unnamed Democrat declared:
"It's not the Democratic party anymore. It's the Obama party."
"Architect" Karl Rove may have maintained the blueprint of the Bush campaign, but according to Taddeo: David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, has a list.
That contact list -- thirteen-million-Obama-supporters-long at the time -- made Plouffe the master of a "many million-mouthed dog." And, wrote Taddeo, Obama "has instructed him to make that list a new lever of government."
The "fulsome pulsing beast" 2009 version of OFA was to be unleashed by Plouffe, according to Taddeo, whenever Obama had a policy initiative he wanted to push, a message he needed to disseminate, or a gaffe he wanted to bat down.
As summed up in Esquire: "In the new DNC -- in Organizing for America -- you will work full-time for the DNC and Obama's goals, or you will not work for them at all."
But still, officially, the 2009 version of OFA was part of the DNC. At the time, Taddeo observed: "No president has ever entered office with this much information." Clinton campaign strategist Paul Begala noted that such a database could "potentially revolutionize progressive politics."
And indeed, OFA proved instrumental, for example, in getting healthcare reform passed, handing Obama over a million signatures in support of his plan. After the 2010 midterm "shellacking," though, the organization became less visible, and the AP's Ken Thomas observed that it "essentially became a campaign-in-waiting for Obama ahead of his re-election race."
Fast forward to 2013 and a refurbished OFA (with the previous "America" changed to "Action" and reorganization into 501(c)(4) status) with millions more names and another successful campaign under its collar. Doubtless, that beast (twenty-million-mouths large) has amassed more teeth and power.
After this election, however, the OFA "dog" no longer resides in the DNC kennel. While the 2008 campaign was "folded into" the DNC as Organizing for America, Organizing for Action is a separate entity that is, as the Wikipedia entry put it, "heavily affiliated with the Democratic Party." And as Politico noted, other Democrat-supporting groups and wealthy donors apparently folded into it (or are at least closely "affiliated"), such as mega-contributor George Soros, Media Matters, and the Center for American Progress. In addition, besides Plouffe, other familiar names in the OFA circle came from the inner circle of Obama's administration: David Axelrod, Stephanie Cutter, Jim Messina, Robert Gibbs, and Jon Carson.
In fact, it seems the DNC is no longer holding the leash, but is the one wearing the collar. Organizing for Action appears to be Organizing for Obama, and perhaps the DNC is now the ONC: the Obama National Committee.
OFA's launch was "the subject of chatter among Democratic activists and strategists," wrote the Los Angeles Times, "who predicted that it could upend the party's power structure... and challenge the party itself as a center of influence." The National Journal noted some Democrat "grumbling" about a potential "power struggle between the national party, which aims to elect Democrats above all else, and the new group, which aims to build the president's legacy[.]"
DNC members were apparently "caught off guard" by the OFA announcement, according to The Hill. Many feared its existence "could hurt the national party's fundraising and drain its resources" and weren't "pleased that Obama didn't fold his powerful grassroots operation back into the DNC."
However, the ability to broadly categorize OFA's actions as 501(c)(4) "promotion of social welfare" and to solicit and receive unlimited and undisclosed "soft money" donations should allay DNC concerns.
Even the mainstream media has taken note of the new OFA's power grab. The New York Times called it unprecedented and "an extension of the [Obama] administration." The Huffington Post wrote: "OFA's close ties to the West Wing and its control over the former campaign's resources has raised questions about where the nonprofit group ends and the White House starts."
Of course, similar questions have been raised about the management of the media complex.
The non-recognition of the media's hypocrisy is as appalling as Obama's own non-retraction of his campaign talking points against Super PACs ("threats to democracy") and elections "bankrolled by America's most powerful interests."
Rove's American Crossroads hit on some of that hypocrisy in its recent ad, calling OFA "Organizing for Access," highlighting the $500,000 ticket price for quarterly meetings with the President.
The Atlantic Wire summed up all the fretting by "detractors and the media" over the new OFA in three parts: its debatable "promotion of social welfare," Obama's "permanent state of political campaigning," and the appearance of "selling access to the White House."
And the final, hypocritical icing-on-the-cake, as noted by the Wire:
That said, there's little suggestion that Organizing for Action will abandon its fundraising and advocacy plans, barring public outcry. Happily for the organization, it has the perfect tool in place for combatting [sic] such a negative response. Itself.
Such closed, circular logic perfectly embodies the closed, circular shape of the OFA logo.
So what are we to make of all this? In the same way that OFA has morphed alongside Obama's evolving legacy, have the Ds behind candidate's names morphed to Os? Or is the OFA really the "new lever of government," a lever that may replace the ones voters pull at polling places?
News of the powerful OFA combined with other strange rumors and tidbits (such as FEMA camps, security drills in our towns, DHS purchases of "street sweeper" tankers and billions of rounds of hollow point bullets and threats of gun confiscation) may cause many to wonder if Obama dreams of having his logo embroidered on uniforms and flags and becoming the dictator he says he's not.
But back to the original question. Is the bark of the OFA in its ads, demonstrations, and private White House meetings, as well as the DNC's complaining and the Democrat-media-complex fretting -- just distractions?
The value of the OFA beast lies in much, much more than the loudness of its bark or the White House meetings it arranges. The value is the list.
A Washington Post article titled "Democrats push to redeploy Obama's voter database," written just after the 2012 election, opened with this:
If you voted this election season, President Obama almost certainly has a file on you. His vast campaign database includes information on voters' magazine subscriptions, car registrations, housing values and hunting licenses, along with scores estimating how likely they were to cast ballots for his reelection.
And although the election is over, Obama's database is just getting started.
Democrats are pressing to expand and redeploy the most sophisticated voter list in history. [snip]
To maintain their advantage, Democrats say they must navigate the inevitable intraparty squabbles over who gets access now that the unifying forces of a billion-dollar presidential campaign are gone.
It is that "access" to an elaborate, digital operation that is key -- and a key that Obama and the OFA have retained. An enormous voter database and a powerful technology that can be quietly directed to selected organizations, candidates, and campaigns -- the ones that reside inside the OFA circle. Its management and sharing would likely fall under the radar and between the cracks of vague IRS rules on "promotion of social welfare" and political campaign spending. Besides, the public will be too busy listening to the yaps of "social issues" commercials while the media pursues the trail of White House access.
AP's Thomas observed that the new OFA would "harness the energy of Obama's re-election campaign for future legislative fights."
In reality, to "harness the energy" means to handle the reins of Plouffe's beastly list -- the massive database and the technology that supports this "new lever of government." It is the Organizing of America.
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