Dinner with friends brings criticism to President Obama
March 13th, 2013
04:05 PM ET
5 years ago

Dinner with friends brings criticism to President Obama

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama's having dinner with a bunch of friends. And that's where the controversy begins.

Wednesday evening the president addresses members of Organizing for Action, which was formed out of the grassroots wing of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign - Organizing for America - with a mission to promote the president's policy agenda.

The president's appearance at a dinner will be the most controversial part of the two-day OFA meetings here in the nation's capital, which are being called the Founders Summit. The dinner will include roughtly 60 people, according to OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan. Both the summit and the dinner will include volunteers, neighborhood team leaders, former Obama campaign staff and donors who will shape the direction of Organizing for America. The dayside summit will consist of a series of meetings and will involve both large events and breakout sessions to think through strategy.

"OFA is a bottom up organization, and the Founders Summit is an opportunity to determine where we go from here – how to sequence and execute the issue campaigns, expand the organization, and to see the agenda a majority of Americans voted for in November through," says Ben LaBolt, the Obama re-election campaign national press secretary, who is advising OFA, which was created in January.

Hours before the dinner, OFA kicked off its meetings with a sort of pep rally and strategy session for attendees at the swank St. Regis Hotel - just steps away from the White House. On hand were Jim Messina, who steered Obama's 2012 re-election, David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, and Jon Carson, OFA's executive director.

"When we set out to build this next iteration of OFA, our primary goal was to help build something to organize every American on behalf of this president's legislative agenda – the same priorities that millions and millions of Americans voted for on Election Day 2012," Messina said.

"You'll remember, from the campaign, when President Obama was criticized for saying you can't change Washington from the inside. But the truth is, he was right. If Americans don't organize, in support of the issues they believe in, and we don't help him do it, then lobbyists and special interests will drive Washington just like they did for decades."

Messina added: "In the first seven weeks, with a very small staff, over 1.1 million Americans… have done at least one volunteer action for Organizing for Action."

The real scrutiny of the group will come after the day's sessions, at the dinner that will feature the president.

It comes amid criticism that the group, which is registered as a non-profit, social-welfare organization, plans to grant special access to the president for top OFA donors–a claim that Messina has attempted to rebuke.

While some have attacked OFA for being like other organizations that take large donations from anonymous wealthy contributors and corporations, Messina wrote in an op-ed Thursday for CNN.com that OFA does not "accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors."

And while it doesn't have to disclose all of its donors, Messina said they "believe in being open and transparent" and pledged to identify donors who give more than $250 every quarter.

Last month, reports in the New York Times and Washington Post indicated supporters who raised or contributed more than $500,000 for OFA would be invited to attend meetings with the president four times a year.

The reports quickly prompted questions of whether top donors could buy access to the president.

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Monday shot down the notion that there was a price tag to meet with Obama or his staff. He said the president's appearance at OFA is just like any appearance he would make at other Democratic groups, such as the Democratic National Committee or the campaign organizations for the House and Senate.

"OFA was set up to promote the president's public policy agenda, and therefore as anyone would expect, the president would likely meet with representatives to discuss his agenda," Carney said in the daily briefing. "Any notion that there's a price set for a meeting with the president is absurd and wrong."

But he hasn't denied that top donors to the group could attend meetings with Obama or members of his staff. Carney also said Wednesday's night's dinner is similar to an address to the various campaign arms of the Democratic Party.

"The president speaks to the DCCC, DNC, DSCC. He'll speak to outside organizations that have policy agendas and that's entirely appropriate," Carney said at the White House press briefing Monday. But Carney said the agenda the president is pursuing, is "inherently bipartisan"

OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan also defended against the reports.

"What [they were] in reference to, was people who wanted to take a leadership role in OFA at a donor level. That's it. It was not a threshold for anything else."

Hogan acknowledged that the $500,000 "was totally an amount that was discussed" but said nothing has been firmly decided. Yet she added: "Does that mean that those people, once they reach a threshold, then have access? No."

American Crossroads, a top independent conservative group co-founded by Karl Rove that backs GOP causes and candidates, put out a video Wednesday that accuses the White House of selling access to the president to top dollar contributors.

Non-partisan government watchdogs groups have raised questions about OFA's purpose, noting the reports.

"I mean I would question whether donors of 50 dollars will have meetings with the president. I imagine they won't," said Lisa Rosenberg with the Sunlight Foundation, a D.C.-based watchdog organization.

"It's all these donors of 50,000 or 100,000 (dollars) or more that get invited to these meetings, so clearly it is not entirely the grass roots organization in reaching out to the public that the founders claim it is," Rosenberg added.

One volunteer attending the morning meeting believes the criticism and questions are unfounded.

"I think the people who say, 'Oh its got the potential for this and that,' I say: 'Trust us,' said Carlotta Joyner, a Maryland volunteer who helped both Obama campaigns and now works with OFA.

Noting the group's promise to disclose donors who gave over $250, Joyner continued: "I would say, take a look at the website. Do you know who paid $500,000? I think that's a big difference from people who put that kind of money into other [similar] organizations and you don't know who they are."

"I have not heard or seen any promise that if you give this amount of money, this is what you'll be able to do. You'll be able to talk to the president for x-number of minutes."

The dinner with OFA comes as the president negotiates with congressional Republicans on a grand bargain to fix the country's fiscal problems. Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN they don't see the president's appearance at OFA as an opportunity to push Republicans on a grand bargain. But they hinted that the president will continue to travel around the country to make his case.

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Laverne

    He is entitled to have dinner with whom he chooses! This reporting and so called critism is getting just out of hand and right down ridiculous. It doesn't matter what this man does or don't do, he is criticized so I hope he decides to do what he wants to do!

    March 13, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  2. tess

    hey – nothing to it !!! it's the chicago way !

    March 13, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    What's the big frickin' deal? We want the President's agenda pushed forward. Therefore, we ORGANIZE!!! You republicans can learn a thing or two from our community organizing President. Kick rocks!

    March 13, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  4. Larry L

    I'm shocked! A political figure meeting with people who support him! What's next? Soon we'll see billionaires funding PACs and calling them "grass roots" movements. Can you say "Koch brothers" or "Tea Party"?

    March 13, 2013 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  5. Thomas

    Enjoy it .

    How much did GW Bush say the two wars would cost ?

    March 13, 2013 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  6. sonny chapman

    He can't even kiss his daughters good night with out somebody carping.

    March 13, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  7. EDDIE

    Republicans could have access to the President if they would except his invitation.

    March 13, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  8. Howard's Daddy

    If he can break bread with Republicans then he can do that with just about anybody. He could have lunch with North Koreans and I wouldn't bat an eyelash.

    March 13, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  9. rs

    The President could have dinner by himself and the GOP would say he is isolated.
    He could have dinner with friends and they'd say "he's wasting time".
    He could have dinner with the 12 disciples, and they'd say he is blurring the line between church and state.
    If he invited the GOP to dinner, they'd accuse him of poisoning them.

    Republicans are simply addicted to criticism and disruption. Every day proves they are vacuous and without any substance. They have no coherant philosphy (like ending a 491 day long filibuster with 100% of their members suddenly approving a nominee, or blocking their own bills in Congress). They do this stuff because they can, NOT because it has any meaning.

    March 13, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  10. Joi Gibson

    @ sonny chapman

    He can't even kiss his daughters good night with out somebody carping.
    Honestly!!! This is paranoia to the highest degree. Too bad the media or whomever does not pay as much attention to Congress – like how they work week, if that, then two weeks off for the entire year and yet Mr. Ryan wants to cut the federal employee workforce. Pay attention to that why don't ya.

    March 13, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  11. Jerry

    Some one needs to tell this foolish/clueless man that the elections are over. And, he's out of the next race; unless HE decides to appoint HIMSELF Dictator/King. And, I would NOT put it past HIM!

    Stay tuned...

    March 13, 2013 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama


    Enjoy it .

    How much did GW Bush say the two wars would cost ?

    March 13, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  13. MaryM

    2014 is just around the corner republicans. Just look at the speakers a CPAC, this is the heart of the repub party.
    Bye bye republs

    March 13, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  14. chester Davis

    Man if the President went to the bath room there is going to be someone to have something to say. The Republicans seem to have a lost say these days. I think it is great that he is having dinner with those who support him

    March 13, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  15. Boomer in Mo

    I for one would not want anyone as President who never took vacations or socialized with friends. Nobody works 24/7, not even the Prez. The GOP needs to get a grip or maybe the media should start reporting what they are doing 24/7. Bet some of them play golf, go to the movies and even, gasp, have dinner with friends once and a while.

    March 13, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Howard's Daddy

    If he can break bread with Republicans then he can do that with just about anybody. He could have lunch with North Koreans and I wouldn't bat an eyelash
    You got that right!!

    March 13, 2013 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  17. mary

    Too many people blindly follow this president. He has a job to do, he should be doing it, not meeting with a group of liberals to discuss his "agenda". This is his second term – he will NOT be re-elected. He needs to stop campaigning and DO HIS JOB! I am so sick of his so -called 'supporters' turning a blind-eye to the reality of his 'agenda'. You are right- he was a community organizer – he is NOT qualified to run an entire country. That is abundantly obvious!! Wake up America!

    March 13, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    Tell them to enjoy their CPAC dinner, then close the topic for any further discussion. That's what Republicans would do.

    March 13, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC


    Too many people blindly follow this president. He has a job to do, he should be doing it, not meeting with a group of liberals to discuss his "agenda". This is his second term – he will NOT be re-elected. He needs to stop campaigning and DO HIS JOB!
    One traditinal duty of the POTUS, irregardless of party affiliation, is that he/she is the default leader of their political party. No one is complaining about Republicans attending CPAC, not even when George W. Bush did it. The right wing is sounding like a bunch of hyprocrites on this issue to most Americans. Unfortunately, most voting conservatives will not see the hypocrisy, not even when you rub their noses in it.

    March 13, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  20. Malory Archer

    In other news, the sun set in the west last night and rose in the east this morning.

    March 13, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  21. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    At least the President won't be making any 47% comments behind closed doors. OOOOPS!!!

    March 13, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  22. PaulCat

    and the problem is ......?????????

    Let's just say goodbye to ALL republicans in 2014.

    March 13, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  23. Joyce

    What did this President do to deserve so much hostility? The hatred from the GOP is getting out of hand. Like Bill Clinton said " he has never seen so much hate for a President like he has seen it for President Obama." GOP you lost, get over it and start working for the people. 2014 is right around the corner and you all will be out of jobs if you keep acting this way.

    March 13, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  24. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Keep up the good work Mr. President. If the right wing hates you, you are doing something right!

    March 13, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  25. Pam from Iowa

    and GW Bush wined and dined with all of his top donors, but because he was part of the GOP, I guess that made it ok!
    These GOP whiners have gotten sickening lately.......

    March 13, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
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