Organizing for Action (OFA) is an advocacy group that is the lineal descendant of the campaign organizations supporting the election of former President Barack Obama, Obama for America and Organizing for America. OFA is a 501(c)4 devoted to preserving and building on the Obama agenda.
OFA advocates in several issue areas, including the environment and climate change, comprehensive immigration reform, preserving Obamacare, LGBT issues, abortion, and left-of-center economics. OFA also runs a six-week fellowship program to teach its supporters how to become community organizers.
Originally Obama for America, OFA was a part of President’ Obama’s first presidential election campaign, eventually becoming a distant part of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) campaign apparatus called Organizing for America, and finally becoming its own offshoot dubbed Organizing for Action. Run almost entirely by Obama campaign alums, OFA has been accused of appearing to exchange access to the then-President for large donations.
The current 501(c)(4) Organizing For Action is actually the third iteration of OFA, which itself reaches back to Barack Obama’s first presidential election campaign in 2008 when it was named “Obama for America.” Shortly before Obama’s inauguration, the then-President-elect announced that Obama for America would be reformed into Organizing for America. The second iteration of OFA officially launched in mid-March 2009.
Organizing for America was housed on the third floor of the Democratic National Committee, where it acted as an outgrowth of the Democratic Party’s national campaign arm. It was tasked with mobilizing support for Obamacare; supporting midterm campaigns in the 2010 election; and growing the grassroots volunteer, voter, and donor base developed by the Obama campaign in 2008.
Though this version of OFA took over many of the duties traditionally retained by the national party structure, Organizing for America technically remained in “departmental” status within the DNC and “retained control of its own e-mail list, and was managed by Obama campaign staffers rather than DNC personnel.”
After President Obama’s reelection in 2012, OFA was reorganized as Organizing for Action, “a policy-focused, chapter-based non-profit.” The goal was to create a permanent campaign apparatus that would champion the “agenda Americans voted for in 2012.” Organizing for Action shifted its focus away from elections and toward “policy advocacy and implementation.” OFA joined with Enroll America, a health care advocacy network staffed by Obama campaign alumni, to sign Americans up for Obamacare health insurance. OFA also staged rallies for progressive causes, and it continued to build out the e-mail list and voter databases used in Obama’s campaigns.
In its first two years alone, OFA trained 10,000 organizers who then worked on the 2014 and 2016 campaigns, gathered an email list of 30-million, had 3 million donors, and claimed 2 million active participants. Because of these activities, many Democrats believe OFA took up “what the more constrained national party committees once did, and in doing so might be providing a valuable service to all Democrats.”
After the election of President Donald Trump, OFA retained much of its senior leadership shifted its focus to defending Obamacare, joining together with other liberal groups like Center for American Progress and MoveOn.org, as well as the abortion network Planned Parenthood.
OFA has joined together with Indivisible, a protest organization that is part of the so-called “resistance” movement opposed to the Trump presidency. Along with Indivisible, OFA is training local protesters and activists to disrupt town-halls and phone congressional offices.
OFA publicly proclaims it publicizes all donations over $250 and disavows donations from corporations. Below is a sampling of the largest donations as disclosed by OFA from 2016 through mid-2017. OFA discloses a self-reported list of all donors above $250 since its founding in 2013, a list that includes one corporation (union-owned Amalgamated Bank) and one donor-advised fund.
- Mark Gallogly: $100,000
- Evan Goldberg: $100,000
- Amalgamated Bank: $50,000
- Mary Quinn Delaney: $50,000
- Wayne Jordan: $50,000
- Jon Stryker: $50,000
- Benjamin Hammett: $13,250
- Naomi D. Aberly: $10,000
- Tom Campion: $10,000
- Felice Frankel: $10,000
- Larry Rockefeller: $5,000
- ImpactAssets donor advised fund: $500,000
- Sandra McNeil-Rogers: $250,000
- Judith Gibbons: $50,050
- Anna Curren: $18,000
- Cynthia Walk $15,000
- Benjamin Hammett: $10,000
- Dorothy Polash: $7,500
- Thomas Fehsenfeld: $5,500
- Gordan Ambach: $5,000
- John Hynes: $5,000
- Judy Taylor: $5,000
According to the Wall Street Journal, in its first year of existence in 2013 OFA received $500,000 donations from Fred Eychaner, the president of Newsweb Corp., and David Shaw, founder of New York investment management firm D.E. Shaw. Philanthropist and Author Amy Goldman donated $250,000.
OFA raised $4.9 million in the first quarter of 2013 and another $8.2 million in the second, doubling its supporters from 109,582 to 237,688 in that same period.
OFA raised another $7.7 million in the third quarter of 2013, with a $150,000 donation from Anne Getty Earhart, heir to the Paul Getty oil fortune and president of the environmentalist Marisla Foundation.
Political consultant Jim Messina is the chairman of OFA and was the manager of President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Before that, he served as the White House deputy chief of staff for operations in President Obama’s first term after acting as the chief of staff for Obama’s first Presidential campaign. Messina has been the chief of staff for several Democratic members of Congress, including former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), and former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.).
Jon Carson is the former executive director of OFA and a co-chairman of the board. A veteran of numerous campaigns, including Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth’s failed campaign for the Congressional seat won by Peter Roskam (R-Illinois) in 2006 and one of Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold’s reelection campaigns, Carson joined Obama’s first presidential campaign as the director of voter contact and then national field director. Called a “damn genius” by the President he helped to elect, Carson helped amass President Obama’s multi-million-person campaign email list. In the White House, he worked first as the deputy assistant to the President and then under Obama confidant Valerie Jarrett as the operational director of the Office of Public Engagement.
Katie Hogan is the executive director of OFA, named to the position in the spring of 2016. Hogan was an early member of Obama’s first presidential campaign, joining in February 2007, She eventually served as then-Senator Obama’s traveling press assistant and was the deputy press secretary in his reelection campaign. Hogan was one of the founding members of Organizing for Action and served as the communications director before becoming executive director.
Most recently, OFA has teamed up with Indivisible, a major if ill-defined force in the “Resist” movement against President Donald Trump. OFA and Indivisible jointly published a “recess toolkit,” guiding its grassroots supporters in how to engage with members of Congress when they are in their districts and states during House and Senate recesses.
During Obama’s presidency, progressives criticized OFA for appearing to put then-President Obama’s influence up for sale. Left-wing commentary site Mother Jones accused President Obama of joining “a long line of presidents to offer exclusive access for big bucks,” offering to large donors “exclusive perks unavailable to run-of-the-mill Obama supporters.” The New York Times editorial board joined in on the condemnation, saying OFA’s practices were “a fancy way of setting a price for access to Mr. Obama” and that “the frantic pursuit of big money makes it impossible to call this a grass-roots effort.” The Times followed that if OFA did not limit donations to a few hundred dollars “it will be playing the same sleazy game that its opponents do , made even worse by the assent of the President.”
OFA has even courted direct influence peddling. In 2014, Dr. Joseph Piacentile, a man convicted of Medicare fraud and tax evasion in 1991, was seeking a Presidential pardon and, while his request was pending, sent a $100,000 check to OFA. After originally returning the check, Samantha Malzman, an OFA fundraiser, requested that the check be returned to the same address but instead made out to America Votes, an OFA partner organization that does not disclose its contributors, thereby hiding Piacentile’s donation from the public. After being questioned by reporters for this action, OFA returned the check without forwarding it to America Votes, publicly apologized, and fired Malzman.
In 2012, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas went into then-Organizing for America’s headquarters throughout the U.S. and, upon expressing their intent to commit voter fraud by casting multiple absentee ballots in multiple states, appeared to be encouraged to do so by Organizing for America representatives. These representatives even gave the undercover reporters multiple absentee ballots for “friends who they said wished to engage in the same tactic,” with one Organizing for America worker seeming to brag about how she herself had committed voter fraud to help elect President Obama.