White House: Watchdogs Question Whether President Obama is Complying with Ethics in Government Act

CLC Staff
Mar 13, 2013
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Today, the Campaign Legal Center joined Democracy 21 in asking President Obama whether his involvement with Organizing for Action (OFA) is consistent with the statutory ban on the solicitation of gifts by the President and executive branch officials. In a letter, citing numerous media accounts of OFA and its ties to the President and his 2012 campaign, the watchdog groups questioned whether the President’s involvement with the organization contravenes the Ethics in Government Act and its explicit ban on the soliciting of gifts by executive branch officials. The President is exempted from the law’s executive branch prohibition on accepting gifts, but remains subject to the ban on soliciting gifts, directly or indirectly, from sources with interests that may be substantially impacted by the decisions and policies of the Administration.

“The President’s involvement with OFA not only raises policy concerns relating to the purchase of influence over the Administration, but also may cross the line in terms of the federal law banning the soliciting of gifts by any member of the executive branch, including the President,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director. “This unprecedented use of a tax-exempt organization to accept unlimited contributions and to serve as what appears to be an arm of the executive branch is not the hope and change touted by then-Senator Obama in 2008. Instead it represents yet another example of the race to the bottom in political fundraising that we have seen following Citizens United. We sincerely hope that the President will reconsider his involvement with OFA and step back from the precipice by shutting down OFA. He should recommit his efforts and the power of his office toward fixing a broken political money system rather than simply riding it further into the ground.”

The letter outlines in detail for the President the “multiple factors” that suggest that OFA’s role as “a private-sector arm” of the Administration may well contravene the solicitation ban of the Ethics in Government Act. Included in the letter to the President is a summary of those activities:

  • You have been personally involved in the creation and public announcement of OFA and in the promotion of OFA to your campaign supporters and the public.
  • You have personally endorsed and embraced the work of OFA, which you have said is important to “finishing the job” started by your first term.
  • You intend to appear at and participate in OFA events that will be attended by OFA’s large donors and bundlers, including the “founders’ summit.”
  • OFA was also created, and is being operated, by former top White House officials in your Administration and by your close political associates and former campaign operatives.
  • OFA is a direct outgrowth of your 2012 presidential campaign, and reportedly, by purchase or lease, will become the beneficiary of key assets of your 2012 presidential campaign, including voter database information and email distribution lists.
  • OFA Chairman Jim Messina, reportedly has stated that you will help direct OFA and will be “intimately involved” in its operations.
  • OFA is managing your Twitter account and Facebook page.

The letter urges the President to shut down OFA with all due haste.

To read the full letter sent by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, click here.

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