By USA Today
President Obama’s new grass-roots advocacy group will target more than a dozen members of Congress with online ads this week for failing to voice support for his plan to expand background checks to all gun buyers, organizers told USA TODAY.
The advertising push is part of a so-called national day of action planned Friday by Obama’s backers to rally support for background checks. It will mark the first large-scale test of Organizing for Action’s ability to mobilize the president’s army of 2.2 million campaign volunteers to press for legislative change.
Obama and a group of his closest advisers launched Organizing for Action (OFA) in late January to transform his campaign operation into a tax-exempt group to advance his second-term priorities, including gun control, immigration and climate change.
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Organizers did not disclose which lawmakers they would target in the first round of advertising but say they could spend as much as $100,000. The goal is to expand criminal background checks on all gun purchasers. The current system applies only to federally licensed gun dealers and excludes guns sold privately. In addition, OFA is sponsoring more than 100 events across the country to demand congressional action.
“That’s the strength the OFA will bring to supporting the president’s agenda,” said Jon Carson, the group’s executive director and the former director of the White House office of public engagement. “We have voices in every corner of this country who are supporting his agenda and can make their neighbors understand where their members (of Congress) stand on these important issues.”
The push for background checks is just one part of the president’s sweeping plan to reduce gun violence in the wake of the school shooting massacre Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn. Carson said OFA backs the full package, which includes renewing the ban on assault weapons and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
Carson said the group is starting the push with background checks because there’s broad support for the issue. A Quinnipiac poll released this month found 92% of voters supported universal background checks, and a bipartisan group of senators is working on legislation to close loopholes in the system.
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said his group is “doing whatever we can right now” to push its gun rights message, but he declined to comment on the OFA ad campaign without more information on the lawmakers to be targeted.
Obama’s decision to establish a separate advocacy group, organized as a social welfare group under the U.S. tax code, is an unprecedented move for a sitting president. “The president is essentially creating his own lobbying entity,” said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine.
Unlike the Democratic Party, which faces strict campaign contribution limits, Organizing for Action will take unlimited money from corporations, unions and individuals. That will free it to raise big sums quickly to mount aggressive, campaign-style grass-roots and advertising efforts.
Campaign-finance watchdogs, such as Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, have slammed the decision as a “dangerous” precedent that will allow special interests to curry favor with the administration.
Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager and OFA chairman, said the group will not accept money from PACs or federal lobbyists. “This grass-roots movement is going to be funded just like the campaign was,” Messina said. “Our average contribution was $51.”
The goal is to create a group that survives past Obama’s presidency, Carson said.
He said thousands would participate in Friday’s events, which include letter-writing campaigns, vigils and news conferences.