G.J. McCarthy / Dallas Morning News file, 2012

President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, appearing at the Democratic National Convention last year, both created or championed organizations outside the national party.

Democrats fear Obama group will siphon donors

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 7:56 am

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's decision to launch his own political organization has some Democrats wondering: Is he just in it for himself?

Obama's new group, Organizing for Action, will focus on his policy agenda – not on electing Democratic candidates – by raising unlimited amounts of cash and accessing the president's secret list of 20 million supporters, volunteers and donors.

The operation won't share money, resources or the priceless Obama email list with the Democratic National Committee or campaign committees that help elect members of Congress, governors and legislators. And it has no plans to coordinate efforts, leading some Democrats to worry that it will take money and manpower away from the party as it heads into the 2014 elections for control of Congress.

"There's only so much money to go around in Democratic circles. There's a limited pool of resources," said Gilda Cobb Hunter, a South Carolina legislator and a member of the Democratic National Committee. "Why can't we strengthen one entity?"

Several DNC members said in interviews that they weren't told about Organizing for Action's formation until it was publicly announced in January. They said that when they'd complained, they were chastised and told by national and state party leaders not to speak publicly. Most spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about the internal party dispute.

Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from Florida, tried to alleviate concerns in a conference call with Democrats in March, stressing that the groups wouldn't compete for money and resources in part because they had different missions.

"What I took away was they heard the complaints of the body," said one DNC member who was on the conference call.

The DNC declined to comment last week. White House officials have praised the group for helping to promote the president's agenda.

Days before his second term began, Obama announced that his campaign would morph into a nonprofit, tax-exempt group to rally support across the country for his agenda.

"Organizing for Action will be an unparalleled force in American politics," he told supporters.

Other presidents have created or championed organizations outside the major national parties. Bill Clinton, for example, embraced the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization that pushed a moderate agenda.

But that functioned more as a think tank. And Obama is the first to form a group that will raise millions of dollars as it seeks to perpetuate a year-round campaign for him.

The decision to create Organizing for Action separate from the DNC, where a similar group was housed after the 2008 election, has prompted some Democrats to accuse Obama of focusing more on his legacy and less on his party.

A Democratic consultant who's worked on campaigns across the nation said contributors who faced a choice would donate to Organizing for Action rather than to another Democratic campaign group because of the president's connection.

"If you are a donor, which do you go to?" he asked, also speaking only on the condition of anonymity lest he alienate fellow Democrats.

Democratic officials say Obama wants to ensure the party's success in the 2014 elections, committing to appear at more than a dozen fundraisers for House of Representatives candidates and several more for the DNC. He'll hold his first events for the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco.

In its first two months, Organizing for Action held hundreds of events across the nation, started raising money and blasted out emails to supporters focused on the president's top issues: curbing gun violence, fighting climate change, overhauling the immigration system and solving the nation's fiscal problems through a mixture of tax revisions and budget cuts.

Organizing for Action was created as an advocacy organization, which means it can't share money or resources with the DNC. It leases its email list from the Obama campaign, which hasn't shut down yet.

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