Looking through the frosted glass

In Opinion
Courtesy of MCT
Courtesy of MCT

Organizing for Action, a nonprofit advocacy group affiliated with President Obama, has decided last week that they are going to step up to the plate and reform how they handle contributions to their organization.

Jim Messina—the chairman of Organizing for Action, former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager under President Obama—released a statement to CNN stating that the group will no longer accept donations from corporations. Messina also said they will voluntarily disclose the exact contribution amounts above $250 made by donors on a quarterly basis, according to an article by the Los Angeles Times.

I want to believe that this is a step in the right direction, and that this group is taking the high road and is making a mature, responsible decision. I want to say that they are stepping out in front of the problem to tackle it head-on.

But one can’t help but wonder if Obama seems to think the American public has short-term memory or that Organizing for Action thinks that this will eradicate any lingering questions or doubts. The group should be accountable for past contributions, and should acknowledge the continued practice of giving top donors preferential treatment.

Wasn’t it President Obama who ran on a platform in 2008 that said you would help to restrict the amount of big money being thrown around in politics? Strange then that his administration itself is aligned with a group that has no contribution limits.

Or I could just be reading into things too much.

Let’s instead go ahead and entertain the possibility that this isn’t some big public relations move to get the heat off of advocacy groups. Let’s say Organizing for Action really does want to increase transparency with the public and wants to show accountability. Awesome.

Well, why not just have a running budget of contributions on a weekly basis? It keeps the public really informed of every single dollar that passes into the advocacy group’s hands, so they have nothing to complain about.

Here’s the thing with political transparency: It’s rarely practiced how it’s preached. Don’t think of transparency like a window where you can take a look in and see everything nice and clear. Consider it more like frosted glass with limo tint; you can kind of make out fuzzy shapes, but you’re not really sure if that’s a dead raccoon or a pile of clothes there on the floor.

On paper, transparency is a magnificent concept. It’s democracy at its best: The government serving the people and fulfilling all of their wishes and desires for unlimited access to information.

Except Organizing for Action keeps forgetting to mention that their top donors are able to sit in on legislative briefings with administrative officials. This tidbit of information is just a bit scary: An extremely wealthy donor has just donated copious amounts of money to an advocacy group and can now sit in on a policy meeting regarding the funding of the district he lives in. It all just perpetuates the idea that a wealthy minority maintain influence over a majority of politics.

Again, maybe I’m just reading into things too much.

Organizing for Action chose to reform partially because of accusations that a group of their stature with such close ties to the executive administration, and the President could be pulling favors for donors. Their response was to amend how they dealt with their finances, instead of changing the access to these lucrative legislative meetings.

I want the best for and from our government, I really do. I refuse to just sit back and let things pass by without raising some serious issues. My most optimistic hope is that these actions are indeed the first of many in a series to change how big money affects politics in this country, even if it’s only a half-step toward progress.

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