Obama's 'Political Nonprofit' Funded by Major Democratic Donors

OFA donor overlap with Democratic party explains group's fundraising 'time-out'

In the wake of the decision by President Obama’s political nonprofit group Organizing for Action to put a timeout on fundraising for midterm elections, campaign finance watchdog groups have taken a deep dive into the group’s fundraising to find out who has been fundraising the group.

The Sunlight Foundation and Center for Responsive Politics found that the groups biggest donors "turn out to be major political givers with long histories of backing Democratic candidates."

The groups found that this small group of donors is providing the group with the majority of its financial backing, and also that this seems to be the reason that Democratic Party officials wanted the group to allow donors to "shift their focus" to elections.

Since the beginning of the 2014 campaign cycle last year, 14 donors — running the gamut from a hedge fund manager to a gay rights activist to a little-known Salt Lake City venture capitalist — have given $100,000 or more to President Barack Obama's avowedly uncampaign committee, Organizing for Action (OFA). Another 26 have ponied up $10,000 or more.

An analysis of the donor list by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Sunlight Foundation underscores why OFA, which will be closing the books on its second quarter in two weeks, has announced a fundraising timeout: Many of OFA’s donors, when checked against CRP data, turn out to be major political givers with long histories of backing Democratic candidates.

Small wonder that Democratic Party officials wanted an opportunity for them to, as OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan told the Associated Press, "shift their focus" — namely to this fall's congressional midterm elections.

The Sunlight Foundation and Center for Responsive Politics had to overcome the "discovery difficulties" and "unwieldiness" associated with OFA’s disclosure of its donors to analyze its biggest donors.

Though OFA discloses more than it is required to by law, it is far from open about its donors, disclosing less than is mandated by the Federal Election Commission for campaign committees. The only personal information that is provided is a name and a hometown, which makes verifying a donors identity difficult.

This, however, is not the only problem ran into by the two campaign finance expert groups.

Other problems with the disclosure:

  • Discovery difficulties: Finding OFA’s donor list is a far from intuitive process. From the group’s home page, scroll all the way down to the fine print at the bottom and click on "Frequently Asked Questions." On that page, use the drop down menu to see the answer to the fourth question from the bottom: "Does OFA publicly disclose its finances?" At the very end of the text, there’s a hyperlink to this page, the first of 26 where the names of donors are listed.
  • The disappearing act: When we went through the above process two weeks ago, the link to the donor page produced an error message. After several emails to OFA, the information reappeared on the page. The episode illustrates the capriciousness of "voluntary" disclosure. What is given can easily be taken away.
  • Unwieldiness: Donors are listed alphabetically and the list is not sortable. That forces interested citizens to leaf through 26 web pages to find names, which makes finding patterns in the data nearly impossible.

Biographies on the major democratic donors backing OFA can be found here.