- Nonprofit issue-advocacy group dedicated to advancing President Barack Obama's agendas
- Independent of the Democratic National Committee
- Major participant in, and organizer of, anti-Trump protests following the 2016 presidential election
See also: Barack Obama Stephanie Cutter
Organizing for America
The formation of Organizing For Action (OFA) was announced on January 18, 2013 by First Lady Michelle Obama and OFA national chairman Jim Messina, who had served as President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign manager. Housed inside the Washington headquarters of the National Education Association, OFA was created specifically to succeed Organizing for America, which itself had been formed as a successor to Obama For America—a key force in Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. But whereas Organizing For America had been housed inside the Democratic National Committee (which in essence controlled it), Organizing For Action (OFA) was set up as a tax-exempt nonprofit group independent of the DNC; it was essentially a sitting president's re-election campaign that morphed, after the election, into a nonprofit issue-advocacy group dedicated to advancing his agendas—something for which there was no precedent in American politics. As one news report put it: "Obama is the first [president] to form a group that will raise millions of dollars as it seeks to perpetuate a year-round campaign for him."
OFA's purpose, as outlined by President Obama himself at the group's inception, is to “play an active role” in promoting and “speaking out in support of important legislation.” In a January 2013 email to his supporters, Obama wrote: “Together, we’ve … fought for historic legislation and we’ve brought more people than ever before into the political process. Organizing For Action will be a permanent commitment to this mission.” Characterizing OFA as the “next step in our grassroots movement,” Obama said the new entity would become “an unparalleled force in American politics,” serving to “turn our shared values into legislative action and ... empower the next generation of leaders in our movement.”
Michelle Obama, in a video introducing OFA to the American public, similarly portrayed the new group as “the next phase of our movement for change,” saying it would help Obama supporters “finish what we started and truly make that change we believe in.” Congratulating those supporters for having “already begun to change our politics,” she emphasized that “the mission of Organizing For Action” is to “change our country” in accordance with President Obama's vision of how to “bridge [the] divide” between “the world as it is and the world as it should be.”
In its earliest days, OFA identified its key policy concerns as: (a) “raising the debt ceiling” on the federal budget as a means of promoting “the economic well-being of the country”; (b) reminding Americans that “Obamacare is making health care work better for all of us”; (c) “taking steps to make America’s immigration policy more fair, efficient, and just”—chiefly by passing “comprehensive immigration reform” and the DREAM Act, both of which would provide a path-to-citizenship for illegals currently residing in the U.S.; (d) avoiding the allegedly disastrous potential effects of “climate change” by taking steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions; and (e) “better protect[ing] our children and our communities by reducing gun violence in America” (via such measures as “banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” “making schools safer,” and “increasing access to mental health services”).
Specifically, OFA trains leftist organizers in the radical street tactics popularized by the late Saul Alinsky; these organizers then pass along their knowledge to many additional people—especially young people—in communities from coast to coast. As of November 2015, OFA had trained more than 10,000 organizers, who, in turn, were training over 2 million youths. To further gain a foothold among young people, OFA holds regular “organizing summits” on college campuses. Moreover, one of OFA's leading projects is its Community Organizing Institute (COI), which OFA describes as “a shared space for organizers, policy makers, advocates, and change-agents to come together for workshops, panel discussions, presentations, trainings, film screenings, and social gatherings—building a strong foundation for partnerships.” Author Matthew Vadum offers the following translation of COI's self-description: "[A]t COI you can learn how to spark riots, get arrested to make a political statement, organize lynch mobs and voter fraud on a massive scale, intimidate and shake down corporations, blackmail lenders, race-bait public officials and businesses into submission, smear and terrorize your opponents, shield illegal aliens from law enforcement, lead squatters to invade foreclosed homes, encourage welfare fraud, and use tax dollars to promote cockamamie social-engineering schemes."
To promote its left-wing agendas, OFA makes extensive use of social media to mobilize flash mobs against such targets as “biased cops,” “climate-change deniers,” “Wall Street predators” and “gun extremists.” Similarly, the organization holds rallies against conservatives who oppose gay marriage, LGBT rights, unfettered abortion rights, and amnesty for illegal immigrants. The cumulative effect of these numerous, highly publicized demonstrations is to convey the appearance of a mass movement that enjoys a great deal of public support. OFA well understands that the creation of this public perception is absolutely vital, particularly in light of Saul Alinsky's maxim about how intimidating a “mass impression” can be. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have,” said Alinsky. The effect of OFA's "mass impression" is further augmented by the parallel activities of such movements as Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, AmeriCorps, and My Brother's Keeper.
Organized under the 501(c)(4) section of the U.S. tax code, OFA is permitted to raise unlimited sums of money from any type of donor—be it an individual, a union, or a corporation—and is not required to disclose who its donors are. As such, it can accept precisely the types of secret, corporate donations that Barack Obama vehemently condemned after they were permitted by a 2010 Supreme Court decision. When OFA was formed, it pledged not to accept money from lobbyists or political action committees, and indicated that it would voluntarily disclose information about its donors.
Tasked with running OFA's day-to-day affairs as executive director from January 2013 through November 2014 was Jon Carson, who previously had served as a national field director for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, a member of the Obama transition team in 2009, chief of staff (under "green jobs czar" Van Jones) of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and, finally, director of the Obama White House's Office of Public Engagement. Carson had also represented Obama at two meetings of the Democracy Alliance. Prior to his involvement with Obama, Carson had worked on many political campaigns, including Al Gore’s 2000 presidential run and Tammy Duckworth's 2006 campaign in Illinois' 6th Congressional District. Predicting that OFA would become “the largest grassroots network in the history of politics,” Carson in January 2013 said the new entity would “organiz[e] locally and nationally to put pressure on Washington to act in the interests of ordinary Americans,” and would “train the next generation of grassroots organizers to do this work so that they’ll be ready to take on the fights of the future.”
A January 2013 Los Angeles Times story speculated: “If [OFA] is able to sustain the intensive volunteer effort that propelled Obama twice into the White House, [it] could outstrip the role played by traditional interest groups, such as organized labor and the environmental movement—and challenge the party itself as a center of influence.” In a similar vein, ABC News reported that the decision to keep OFA independent of the DNC “has the potential to diminish the role and influence of the national party, which traditionally inherits the remains of a presidential candidate’s campaign infrastructure.”
At various times since 2013, OFA’s board of directors has included numerous Obama aides and advisors such as Stephanie Cutter, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, Robert Gibbs, David Plouffe, Erik Smith, Julianna Smoot, and Frank White. Obama campaign finance director Rufus Gifford, renowned as a big-donor fundraiser, has provided OFA with fundraising advice. And longtime Obama advisor and confidante David Axelrod has served as an OFA consultant.
To help Organizing For Action achieve its political goals, Obama and his campaign allies leased to OFA the sophisticated software and databases (e.g., voter files, 20+ million-name email lists, and donor lists) which they had developed for Obama’s re-election campaign. But the Obama team, knowing that those assets could be extremely advantageous to any future Democratic candidate with access to them, retained ultimate ownership of them. “We’ve never had a presidential campaign that created and retained the kind of information that the Obama 2012 campaign built,” said Democratic strategist and former Obama campaign official Steve Hildebrand. “So it’s going to take [awhile] to figure this new environment out and how it should apply to future elections.” McClatchyDC.com reported on April 1, 2013: "The operation won’t share money, resources or the priceless Obama email list with the Democratic National Committee or campaign committees that help elect members of Congress, governors and legislators. And it has no plans to coordinate efforts, leading some Democrats to worry that it will take money and manpower away from the party as it heads into the 2014 elections for control of Congress."
During the third weekend in January 2013, some 4,000 committed Obama campaign supporters convened in Washington, DC to discuss how OFA's potential could best be harnessed to advance the president's agendas going forward. A Saturday closed-door meeting, dubbed the “Road Ahead” conference, was held at Washington's Newseum and was sponsored by Business Forward—an organization funded by a host of major corporations, each of which sent senior executives to participate in a panel on how to promote American economic prosperity. Through its affiliation with Business Forward, OFA established strong ties to those corporations. Invitations for this meeting, which was geared for what Politico described as "the liberal big-money set," were sent jointly by Obama’s National Finance Committee, the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the Center for American Progress, and Media Matters. The keynote speaker was Bill Clinton.
Also at the “Road Ahead” conference, OFA national chairman Jim Messina—asserting that OFA was “building a national advisory board filled with people in this room"—told the invited donors: “We need you. This president needs you." He cited the Common Purpose Project (CPP), a non-profit known for convening weekly meetings of left-wing nonprofit groups with White House officials, as “the model that we’re basing this off.” CPP founder Erik Smith is a Democratic operative, a former Obama campaign consultant, and a board member of both OFA and Business Forward.
OFA's then-executive director Jon Carson, for his part, told the donors at the “Road Ahead” conference that "there’s going to be a place for each and every one of you." Added Carson: “From the grassroots volunteers, to every one of you, we need you in this fight to reduce gun violence. In finally holding Republicans accountable for being climate deniers. In everything from tackling these budget issues to immigration, we are going to put this army to work.”
The following day, a no-invitation-necessary gathering titled the “Obama Campaign Legacy Conference” was held at the Washington Hilton. There, Carson told reporters that OFA would “absolutely” be funded mostly by grassroots contributors rather than big corporate donors.
Among the left-wing groups that indicated an early willingness to work with OFA were Business Forward, the Center for American Progress, the Democracy Alliance, and Media Matters.
In February 2013, The New York Times reported that “at least half of [OFA's] budget will come from a select group of donors who will each contribute or raise $500,000 or more.”
Also in February 2013, OFA initiated a Twitter hash-tag campaign, #WeDemandAVote, in an effort to influence the public as well as Congressional representatives to pass President Obama’s proposed gun-control measures. Before long, however, it became clear that most of the avatars of these “people” speaking out against “gun violence” were brand new “egg” avatars—i.e., the default avatars that Twitter gives to every new account—spamming the same two messages to Members of the House and Senate across the United States. These new avatars had been assigned to readers who had simply clicked a Tweet button on a website somewhere.
In March 2013, OFA held a “founders summit” at a hotel near the White House, where donors paying $50,000 apiece were given an opportunity to mingle with OFA leaders Jim Messina and Jon Carson. Meanwhile, donors giving or raising $500,000 or more were rewarded with seats on OFA's national advisory board and the privilege of attending quarterly meetings with President Obama, as well as other White House meetings. Regarding this arrangement, MSNBC commentator Chuck Todd said: “This just looks bad—it looks like the White House is selling access. 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.” Robert Edgar, the president of Common Cause, concurred: “It just smells. The president is setting a very bad model setting up this organization.”
On March 13, 2013, President Obama himself hosted an OFA fundraiser at the Adour restaurant in Washington's St. Regis Hotel. The event was attended by approximately 70 wealthy donors, some of whom paid $50,000 apiece for admission. In the course of his remarks, Obama explained that contributions from these donors could someday serve to embolden politicians in certain districts to support the President's agenda even if it is unpopular there: “If you have a senator or a congressman in a swing district who is prepared to take a tough vote … on immigration reform, or legislation around background checks for guns, I want to make sure that they feel supported and that they know that there are constituencies of theirs who agree with them, even if they may be getting a lot of pushback in that district.”
A few days later, OFA emailed, to Obama supporters, black-and-white "digital signs" stating: "I am one of 92% of Americans who support universal background checks" for gun purchasers. The recipients of these emails were urged to use the signs as replacements for their Facebook profile pictures, and to display them in their windows or on their work desks.
In April 2013, OFA reported that during the first quarter of that year, it had raised $4.8 million from 109,582 individual supporters. From 2013 through the end of 2016, OFA went on to take in more than $40 million in contributions and grants. Several members of the George Soros-supported Democracy Alliance have been among OFA’s leading donors.
In the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, OFA increased the size of its staff and ramped up its efforts to recruit young liberal activists to its cause. Declaring on its website that “We’re not backing down,” the organization doubled down on its resolve to preserve President Obama’s legacy vis à vis such issues as immigration, healthcare, race relations, climate change, and wealth redistribution. Obama himself tried to encourage OFA allies by telling them: “You’re going to see me early next year, and we’re going to be in a position where we can start cooking up all kinds of great stuff.” “Now is the time for some organizing,” he said, adding: “I promise you that next year Michelle and I are going to be right there with you, and the clouds are going to start parting, and we’re going to be busy. I’ve got all kinds of thoughts and ideas about it.... I’m still fired up and ready to go, and I hope that all of you are, as well.”
As journalist Paul Sperry wrote in February 2017: “[Obama is] working behind the scenes to set up what will effectively be a shadow government to not only protect his threatened legacy, but to sabotage the incoming administration and its popular 'America First' agenda. He’s doing it through a network of leftist nonprofits led by Organizing for Action.” At that point, OFA had 250 offices and 32,525 volunteers nationwide. Meanwhile, an additional 25,000 volunteers were in the process of being trained.
In his post-presidency involvement with OFA, Obama oversees the group's operation from a $5.3 million, 8,200-square-foot, walled mansion in Washington’s Embassy Row that he has rented as the principal post-White House residence for himself and Michelle Obama. Moreover, longtime Obama confidante and adviser Valerie Jarrett has a living space therein. The Obama Foundation has set up an office in the building as well.
OFA has been a major participant in, and organizer of, the many anti-Trump protests that have taken place across the United States since the 2016 presidential election. As Paul Sperry writes: “OFA activists helped organize anti-Trump marches across U.S. cities, some of which turned into riots. After Trump issued a temporary ban on immigration from seven terror-prone Muslim nations, the demonstrators jammed airports, chanting: 'No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!'” Notably, Obama praised the airport rabble-rousers, saying through a spokesman that he was “heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country.”
Shortly before the congressional recess of mid-to-late February 2017, when Republican lawmakers nationwide were scheduled to hold a series of town hall meetings and other functions in their respective districts, OFA distributed a training manual -- titled Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda -- which was designed to teach anti-Trump activists how to intimidate GOP congressmen into renouncing their support for Trump's major agenda items at town hall meetings. Among those items were restrictions on immigration from hotbeds of Islamic terrorism, a repeal of Obamacare, and the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The manual was published jointly by OFA and its partner organization, “Indivisible.” For details about the contents of the manual, click here.
In a separate initiative, OFA in early 2017 laid out a plan to stage some 400 rallies across 42 states during the rest of that calendar year, specifically to attack Trump and the Republicans over the matter of an Obamacare repeal.
In early March 2017, the Daily Mail issued a report describing the type of sustained chaos and intimidation that OFA and other leftist anti-Trump activists were purposefully spreading, not only at town hall meetings, but also at the offices of GOP lawmakers. For example, here is the result of the activists' efforts against Senator Marco Rubio of Florida:
"Vocal crowds of demonstrators making weekly visits to the Tampa, Florida, office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have gotten the Miami Republican evicted from the building. The owner of the nine-story office center notified Rubio's office on Feb. 1 that it will not renew the lease. The building's owner says the rallies have become too disruptive to the other tenants and a costly security expense for the company. Rubio's office says it's looking for a new office space.
"Several groups who oppose President Donald Trump's agenda have gathered at least once a week at the building, lining up on the sidewalk to wave signs and shout messages.Rubio's seven statewide offices have been lightning rods for demonstrations. Gatherings in front of the Tampa office have surpassed 150 people. Rubio has largely skipped town halls since the upsurge of protests targeting Republican lawmakers since President Trump's inauguration."
 During its first two months in existence, OFA not only held hundreds of events across the United States, but also began contacting supporters via email blasts focusing on President Obama's top issues: curbing gun violence, fighting climate change, overhauling the immigration system, and promoting tax hikes on the wealthy.