By Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity
President Barack Obama’s new nonprofit advocacy group wants to know what its donors do professionally and for whom they work.
But don’t expect to ever see the information.
Organizing for Action, launched by former Obama campaign officials earlier this year, confirms it will not publicly release donors’ employer and occupation data despite collecting it through its online donation form.
“Our voluntary disclosure will be posted on our website with the exact dollar donation, name and city and state of the donor,” Organizing for Action spokeswoman Katie Hogan told the Center for Public Integrity.
As a practical matter, a lack of employer and occupation information makes it more difficult for the public to determine the corporate, union or special interest ties donors may have.
It also complicates confirming their identities, particularly when they have common names. A similar issue arose when Obama’s inauguration committee released the names of its donors, but no other identifying information.
For contributions by standard mail, Organizing for Action asks donors include their “full name, address, phone number and email address” with their checks, according to the group’s website.
Organizing for Action — the successor organization to Obama’s re-election campaign — is not compelled by law to release any of its donor information because it was established as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit group and falls under the auspicies of the Internal Revenue Service. It may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, but electing politicians cannot be its primary purpose.
In contrast, political candidates and election-focused committees such as super PACs that register with the Federal Election Commission must disclose name, address, city, state, employer and occupation information for all donors giving more than $200 during an election cycle.
Government watchdog groups and campaign finance reform advocates cried foul when Organizing for Action didn’t immediately detail whether it would disclose its donors — and if so, to what degree.
They’ve also criticized the group for what they consider the selling of access to Obama. Individuals who give or raise $500,000 or more will reportedly be invited to quarterly meetings with the president.
Common Cause, for one, called on Obama to shut his lobbying group down entirely. Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center accused Obama of violating the Ethics in Government Act by soliciting money on Organizing for Action’s behalf.
With such criticism failing to fizzle, Organizing for Action National Chairman Jim Messina, who served as Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, this month declared in a CNN.com opinion column that “every donor who gives $250 or more to this organization will be disclosed on the website with the exact amount they give on a quarterly basis.”
Messina also noted that Organizing for Action has “decided not to accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors.” It is, however, courting labor unions, which are organized under IRS rules as 501(c)(5) nonprofit corporations.
Most 501(c)(4) nonprofits involved in electioneering or issue advocacy — liberal or conservative — don’t release donor information in this manner, nor do they self-impose limitations on the kinds of donations they receive.
Organizing for Action says it has no plans to enter electoral politics, instead exclusively focusing on touting Obama’s agenda to the nation. Gun control and immigration reforms have ranked among the issues it’s so far pressed.