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President leads the stampede

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - Updated: 4:30 PM

Blithely ignoring his own past warnings, President Barack Obama is wading ever deeper into a campaign and politics quagmire filled with potential hazard for his second term. He ought to come to his senses. If he doesn't, it won't be easy to clean this muck off his shoes later on.

The president's team has formed Organizing for Action, a group intended to advance his priorities using the potent grass-roots technology and troops from his winning re-election campaign. According to a summary prepared for donors, this includes 2.2 million volunteers, 33 million Facebook friends, 22 million Twitter followers and 17 million email subscribers. We see nothing wrong with that.

But how the Obama people are going about it stinks. They have registered the group as a 501(c)4 organization, under a section of the Internal Revenue Code that provides tax-exempt status for "social welfare" organizations, a broad category that was originally envisioned for civic leagues and the like but which has become a favored dark alley for political operators.

Such groups are not required to publicly disclose donors or amounts of contributions, as they would be if they operated under the rules of the Federal Elections Commission.

As "social welfare" groups, they must pledge that their work is not "primarily" electoral politics, but that has been left ill-defined by tax authorities. Some electoral and political activity is allowed.

Judging by recent reports, Organizing for Action should be renamed Paying for Access. The Obama team has been talking about raising half the group's money through $500,000 donations from the president's top supporters.

Moreover, Obama's team says that donations will not be listed precisely; rather, they will be listed "in ranges." This affords the donors a useful veil.

The president was the one who a few years ago warned us of "a new stampede of special-interest money in our politics." Now Obama seems to be leading the stampede.

-- The Washington Post

     

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