President Barack Obama’s decision to transform his campaign into the freestanding lobbying group “Organizing for Action” is groundbreaking in many ways — but the idea of creating an outside organization to put pressure on Capitol Hill dates back at least to Ronald Reagan.
President Bill Clinton even tried to create one 20 years ago. In 1993, seeking to to marshal grassroots support for his health-care reform effort, his team’s first impulse was to set up a standalone entity that could anonymously raise and spend large sums of money on polling, petition drives, phone banks and TV commercials.
Obama’s got big plans for OFA, and the group’s leaders are heavy on ambition for what they’ll be able to do to make the president’s agenda on issues like gun control and immigration a reality. But while campaign finance laws have changed over the years, some of the same problems — in both the law and public perception — that hounded previous White House-connected outside influence efforts could lay ahead for Obama. And, so far, neither the White House nor OFA is saying much about how they plan to avoid them.
*disclosure: I receive OFA emails.