NYT: $500K to OFA Gets You Quarterly Access to Obama; Admin's Carney Dodges, Walks Away; AP Builds Denial Firewall

February 26th, 2013 9:17 AM

It's hard to imagine that Nicholas Confessore and his editors at the overwhelmingly Obama-friendly New York Times were just making things up when he reported over the weekend in a Page A1 story that the Obama campaign's Organizing For America operation, now "rebooted" as the supposedly independent Organizing For Action, "will rely heavily on a small number of deep-pocketed donors ... whose influence on political campaigns Mr. Obama once deplored," granting them quarterly access to the Obama if they raise $500,000 or more.

According to Charlie Spiering at the Washington Examiner, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, when asked about the story, in Spiering's words, "asserted that OFA was an 'independent organization' that just happened to support the president’s policy agenda," "refused to address the New York Times reporting," and "ended the press briefing as reporters were still asking questions and fled the podium." If the late Tony Snow had done this while serving as press secretary under George W. Bush, we'd be seeing a continuous loop of the walkout on network TV all day long. The key paragraphs from the Times story, the reaction of MSNBC's Chuck Todd follow the jump, and the Associated Press's non-denial denial firewall follow the jump.

From the Times story ("Obama’s Backers Seek Big Donors to Press Agenda"; bolds are mine throughout this post):

... contributions will also translate into access, according to donors courted by the president’s aides. Next month, Organizing for Action will hold a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, where donors paying $50,000 each will mingle with Mr. Obama’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, and Mr. (Jon) Carson, who previously led the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Giving or raising $500,000 or more puts donors on a national advisory board for Mr. Obama’s group and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with the president, along with other meetings at the White House. Moreover, the new cash demands on Mr. Obama’s top donors and bundlers come as many of them are angling for appointments to administration jobs or ambassadorships.

As reported at the Washington Free Beacon, MSNBC's Chuck Todd had to work pretty hard to state the obvious:

“This just looks bad–it looks like the White House is selling access,” Todd said Monday. “It’s the definition of selling access. If you believe money has a strangle hold over the entire political system this is ceding the moral high ground.”

I don't think Chuck would have had to get through the "looks like" stage before acknowledging that what OFA is doing is "the definition of selling access" (and, apparently, plum bureaucratic positions) if a Republican or conservative administration were engaging in this behavior.

Headline writers at the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, helped build a false "denial" firewall today which was contradicted by the actual content of Josh Lederman's and Ken Thomas's story. The AP reporters gave away their nervousness by never once specifically mentioning the Times in their writeup:


Facing tough questions about President Barack Obama's past pledges to help curb the role of money in politics, the White House pushed back Monday against suggestions that donors to a new group supporting his agenda will have special access to the president.

... Asked Monday whether there was a price tag to see the president, White House press secretary Jay Carney said emphatically that there was not. But he wouldn't directly address reports that donors who give or raise $500,000 will be invited to quarterly meetings with Obama.

"Administration officials routinely interact with outside advocacy organizations," Carney said. "This has been true in prior administrations and it is true in this one."

... Organizers of the nonprofit group (Organizing For Action) have outlined plans to raise tens of millions of dollars for the organization, according to someone who has been briefed on the plans. The group has reached out to 50 top Obama donors who intend to raise at least $500,000 this year, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to describe the group's plans publicly.

The donors, many of whom served on the Obama campaign's National Finance Committee, are expecting they'll receive benefits similar to what they received in the campaign, he said. Those benefits included briefings from top White House officials, campaign operatives and access to Obama. But an explicit menu of benefits available to those who raise specific amounts has not been offered.

Okay, I get it. There's no "price tag"; it's only a specified intended goal. Give ... me ... a ... break.

OFA doesn't have to offer an "explicit menu," because donors knew what was on the menu during the campaign, and it's "similar" (i.e., virtually the same).

I wouldn't be surprised if we never hear another word about OFA's cash for access arrangements in future Carney press briefings.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.