Billionaires, Rappers, and Former Lobbyists Give to OFA

Organizing for America takes in $4.8 million in first quarter disclosures

April 12, 2013

President Barack Obama’s advocacy organization Organizing for Action (OFA) raised over $4.8 million from first-quarter donors, including the chairman of a major lobbying firm, wealthy progressives affiliated with the secretive Democracy Alliance, and a member of popular 1990s hip-hop group the Fugees, according to a list of first quarter contributors released by the group today.

OFA has agreed to disclose limited information about its $250-and-up donors on a quarterly basis. The group, which evolved out of President Barack Obama’s campaign arm, had previously been criticized for evading mandatory donor disclosure by registering as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group.

"We are incredibly thrilled by an average donation of $44 if you weren't able to tell from [OFA executive director] Jon Carson's email this morning. Well over half of the total [dollar] contributions came from small dollar donations (under $250.)," wrote OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan in an email to reporters this afternoon. "Reminder that this is a voluntarily disclosure, not required of any 501c4 and not practiced by almost all 501c4's."

But the voluntary disclosure may not be enough for watchdogs, who note that there is no way to verify whether the list of donors is complete.

"We rely entirely on the faith of Organizing for America for being honest," said Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen. "There’s no other way to cross-check if they’re leaving off a critical name, or two, or a hundred."

OFA also gave a far more limited glimpse of its donors than it would have been required to if it were a campaign organization. It released contributors’ names, cities, and donation amounts, but not their addresses or employers.

Holman called it a "woefully inadequate disclosure."

"That’s a major deficit in the disclosure," he said. "If we don’t know who they’re working for it makes it very difficult to try to determine if there is a great deal of bundling activity going on supporting this electioneering nonprofit group. … We haven’t got a clue if they come from Boeing if they come from what company and what they want in return."

Disclosed donors include hedge fund billionaire S. Donald Sussman and real-estate mogul Wayne Jordan, contributing at least $50,000 each. Both have been supporters of the Democracy Alliance, an organization backed by major progressive donors that steers donor dollars to dark-money groups that disclose very little about their funding sources.

Michael Kempner, chairman of the lobbying firm MWW, also gave at least $50,000 to OFA. Prakazrel Michel, better known as "Pras" from the rap group the Fugees, contributed $20,000 to the organization.

The organization also accepted a $15,466 in-kind contribution for office space from the National Education Association, which is where OFA has been headquartered.

"[A] note about the NEA donation listed, that was not a contribution, that was in-kinded office space for our temporary start up office in DC," wrote Hogan.

OFA says it raised the first quarter funds from 109,582 contributors, and over half reportedly gave less than $250.

The group previously came under fire from the progressive base for saying it would accept corporate cash. It has since changed its position, but can still take money from individuals at corporations, including bundled contributions.