Messina: Pro-Obama advocacy group won’t take corporate money

Organizing for Action (OFA) national chairman Jim Messina on Thursday sought to defend his group against charges that it is peddling access to President Obama in exchange for large donations, saying they would not accept money from corporations.

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In an op-ed on CNN, Messina pledged that the organization, which was formed from the remnants of Obama’s campaign structure, would be “open and transparent” about their fundraising. 

"While Organizing for Action is a nonprofit social welfare organization that faces a lower disclosure threshold than a political campaign, we believe in being open and transparent," Messina wrote. "That's why 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. 

“We have decided not to accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors," he added. 

Messina’s defense comes amid charges from watchdog groups who claim OFA is offering access wealthy donors special access to the president.

The New York Times last week reported that the nonprofit was offering donors access to quarterly meetings with the president if they donated half a million dollars. Smaller contributions were said to allow face time with other White House officials.

The White House has rejected those claims, saying that donors were never promised access for a specific price. Press secretary Jay Carney on Monday said there was no “set price” for a meeting with the president.

Messina said the group was necessary to help the president fight against the influence of moneyed special interest groups in Washington and promote the White House agenda.

"As we worked for change during the president's first term, we saw special interests spend unprecedented amounts in an attempt to persuade Congress to vote against policies the American people voted for," Messina, a former White House deputy chief of staff and Obama's reelection campaign manager, wrote.

Messina argued the organization could help counter efforts by organizations like the National Rifle Association to stop Congress from passing new restrictions for guns. 

"History is repeating itself. Gun manufacturers are well represented," Messina wrote. "The NRA is running advertisements to defeat common sense gun safety measures like universal background checks, which more than 90% of Americans support. Groups with unnamed backers are advocating against comprehensive immigration reform.

“We have no plans to shrug this off and tell those Americans organizing their communities to stand down," he said.

Organizing for Action, Messina added, was not charged with boosting Democratic candidates, but would instead remain focused on Obama’s agenda.

"There has been some confusion about what Organizing for Action is and is not. Organizing for Action is an issue advocacy group, not an electoral one," Messina wrote. "We'll mobilize to support the president's agenda, but we won't do so on behalf of political candidates. 

“The president has always believed that special interests have undue influence over the policymaking process, and the mission of this organization is to rebalance the power structure," he added.

Later on Thursday, OFA blasted out a fundraising email from Messina declaring the group would not accept "a single dollar from corporations, PACs, foreign donors, or lobbyists."

Common Cause, a watchdog group that has accused OFA of selling access to Obama, praised the reversal on fundraising but said the new policy doesn’t go nearly far enough.

"I’m pleased to see that the President’s associates have reconsidered their initial decision to solicit corporate contributions and sell access to the President through OFA and that they’ve pledged to make full and prompt disclosure of all gifts of $250 or more," Common Cause President Bob Edgar said in a statement. "But that’s really just a start."

— This story was updated at 1:12 p.m.