Monday, March 04, 2013

NYT Editorial: Obama's Team Playing A "Sleazy Game"

Sunday's New York Times article about Organizing for Action was a strangely schizophrenic one in that it condemned Obama's use of corrupt lobbying tactics while also expressing admiration for them. Indeed, the editorial began with "It is tempting to applaud the nonprofit group."

Then, though the story properly detailed the unfair structure and purpose of OFA, the conclusion of the editorial actually expressed a tolerant understanding for the President's pals because, after all, they're only playing the "same sleazy games" as the Republicans and NRA folks.

Weird. The Times finally does a fact-based story about Barack Obama's political tactics, a subject that can't help but show the President and his cronies in a bad light (hypocrites, cheats, secretive) but then bookends that story with paragraphs designed to remove the sting. Nonetheless, despite the Times' efforts to soften the effect of the editorial, the facts it reported must have ruffled a few feathers in the White House.

Consider these items from the editorial:

1) Organizing for Action is a  nonprofit group now spending nearly $100,000 on ads to pressure Republican lawmakers to accept gun-control measures.

2) Organizing for Action is the direct descendant of Obama for America, the president’s campaign organization. It retains its extremely valuable voter database and many of the same strategists. What it does not have are the campaign’s old limits on who can donate money and how much they can give.

3) In fact, there are no limits, because the group has reorganized as a 501(c)(4), a so-called social welfare group unbound by campaign restrictions. Corporations and billionaires can write checks of any size, aware that they are giving to a group with close ties to the White House, one that is busily promoting President Obama’s agenda. And now that this White House has torn down the last wall between its needs and those of special interests, others in the future will undoubtedly do the same.

4) The organization plans to raise $50 million, Nicholas Confessore of The Times recently reported, at least half of which will come from donors pressured to bring in $500,000 or more. Give or raise that much and you get to be on the group’s “national advisory board,” which will hold quarterly meetings with the president. That is nothing more than a fancy way of setting a price for access to Mr. Obama.

5) It is understandable that the White House might want to make use of its campaign voter list, mobilizing supporters when it needs help getting bills through Congress. The group’s leaders say they will be holding rallies on important topics ranging from immigration to climate change, and note that this kind of organizing is expensive. But the frantic pursuit of big money makes it impossible to call this a grass-roots effort.

6) Any corporation with a matter pending before the administration can give lavishly to Organizing for Action as a way of currying favor, knowing that the West Wing will take note. It is also a way for donors to bypass the limits on giving to the Democratic Party: the new group does similar work, but without the restrictions on donations.

Fairness, ethics, transparency, accountability -- even the editors of the New York Times are admitting that you won't find these values among the President's team.