The advocacy group born out of President Barack Obama's campaign organization raised just under $4.9 million in its debut quarter, a modest sum illustrating the challenges of keeping campaign-year fervor alive once the voters have all gone home.
Organizing for Action told supporters Friday that more than 109,000 people donated money to the fledgling group, with the average donor handing over about $44. The group claimed that the preponderance of low-dollar contributions reflected powerful grassroots momentum.
"To anyone who thought we couldn't do this, these numbers send a pretty clear message: It's never been done before, but supporters like you are doing it," said Jon Carson, the group's executive director and a former official in the Obama White House.
Former Obama campaign staffers created the group shortly after his re-election, hoping to harness the power of his impassioned supporters and his seasoned political operation to fuel his second-term agenda. Organizing for America — his grassroots campaign operation — became Organizing for America. It held on to key resources like his Twitter handle and his email list — 12 million to 13 million names at the end of the campaign.
But the group has gotten off to a rocky start. An initial plan to accept corporate donations was scuttled after campaign finance advocates cried foul. The group was on the defensive over reports that donors were promised quarterly meetings with Obama if they made a $500,000 donation — a claim that OFA and the White House rebutted.
The group's relatively humble showing its first fundraising quarter raised fresh questions about whether it will have the resources and support from Democrats to fulfill its mission. Although OFA is careful not to draw comparisons to the campaign, the disparities are difficult to ignore. In September, for example — the height of Obama's re-election — he and the Democratic National Committee raised roughly $181 million, or about $6 million per day.
But Obama's name is not on any upcoming ballot. Donors who maxed out to Obama last year may be getting tired of the relentless fundraising appeals. After all, it's easier to rally people behind a candidate — even an imperfect one — than around that candidate's policy prescription for a nuanced issue like deficit reduction or immigration reform.
"A lot of those donors may be inclined to send their money to other places right now," said Michael Fraioli, a consultant who raises money for Democratic candidates. "The White House is secure for the next three-and-a-half-plus years. But can we hold the Senate and take back the House?"
While exempt from contribution limits imposed on political campaigns, Organizing for Action pledged to disclose the identity of donors who give more than $250 and the amount of money they contribute. The group made good on that pledge Friday, posting a long list to its website of donors who chipped in the first three months, an abridged quarter because the group didn't launch until late January.
OFA's top donor during the first three months was Philip Munger, a New York-based Democratic activist who gave $250,000. Two California donors, John Goldman and Nicola Miner, gave $125,000 to the group, according to the disclosures.
Goldman, a philanthropist and Levi Strauss heir, welcomed Obama to his Atherton, Calif., home last week for a fundraising luncheon benefiting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Miner, the daughter of a founder of Oracle Corp., and her husband, novelist Robert Mailer Anderson, raised more than $500,000 for Obama during the 2012 campaign and held a fundraiser with the president at their San Francisco home in February 2012 that featured a musical performance by the Rev. Al Green.
New York financier Orin Kramer, a major Obama donor, contributed $75,000 to OFA, the records show.
In total, 16 donors gave $50,000 or more. The National Education Association provided more than $15,000.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
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