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Obama nonprofit invites pay to play, watchdog says

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A government watchdog group that often has attacked the secrecy of Republican-leaning political money machines turned its sights on President Obama Tuesday, giving a scathing review of his decision to turn his campaign committee into a little-regulated nonprofit group.

Using a nonprofit that can accept unlimited, secret funds from corporations and wealthy individuals to advance the agenda of a president is unprecedented and potentially corrupting, Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, said in a statement.

Mr. Obama has recognized that his rhetorical skills and power to mobilize everyday Americans gives him an advantage that previous presidents have not always had, and his inability to do the same with members of Congress makes that all the more important. The infrastructure and assets of his re-election campaign, Obama for America, will be transferred to a group called Organizing for America, that will adopt campaign-style tactics to build momentum and support for policies the president wants to move.

“It will be governed and run by some of the president’s closest political operatives,” Mr. Wertheimer said. “President Obama has set out on a dangerous and unprecedented path as he begins his second term
in office.”

Those tactics will likely include advertising and other monetarily expensive means. But the people and businesses providing those funds give for a reason, Mr. Wertheimer said — a political reality that Mr. Obama himself has previously commented on in frequent attacks on Republicans’ use of the tactic.

“Corporations have a responsibility to their shareholders to invest their resources to advance their corporate economic interests. They … seek economic returns on their investments,” Mr. Wertheimer said.

Nonprofits organized under section 501(c) of the tax code are even less regulated than super PACs, but the group’s organizers say that they will voluntarily provide some disclosure.

“Disclosure, while very important, does not prevent influence buying. There is no reason to believe that the $100 million that Sheldon Adelson reportedly gave to influence the 2012 national elections, much of which was disclosed, has not created the potential for buying influence over government policies with the political party and winners he supported, or at least created the potential appearance of such influence buying,” Mr. Wertheimer said.

“Organizing for Action also says it won’t take money from PACs and lobbyists. This is an irrelevant obfuscation. It doesn’t matter if you are not taking money from PACs or lobbyists when you are taking money from the corporations they represent.

“President Obama should shut down Organizing for Action now before it creates the appearance of influence buying and/or scandals for the second term of his Administration,” Mr. Wertheimer said.

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