How transparent is Organizing for Action, the big-money "issue advocacy" committee closely associated with Barack Obama's White House?
Not enough, suggests the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit based in Washington DC that runs OpenSecrets.org, a campaign-funding research site.
"Since the beginning of 2014 campaign cycle last year, 14 donors ― running the gamut from a hedge fund manager to a gay rights activist to a little-known Salt Lake City venture capitalist ― have given $100,000 or more to Barack Obama's avowedly un-campaign committee, Organizing for Action," says the center. "Another 26 have ponied up $10,000 or more."
The nonprofit, set up just last year, was doing so well that congressional Democrats worried that it was sucking the air, not to mention cash, out of the upcoming November contest for the House. As a result, the group is scaling back on pitching itself to high-net-worth individuals.
The Associated Press reported last month that Kathy Gasperine, the group's rainmaker-in-chief and an ex-Obama fundraiser, dispatched an email to big contributors saying the organization would "not be giving significant priority to seeking out new major donors….
"During the remainder of 2014, we will work to strengthen our relationships we have with our national leadership, continue our robust digital organizing, and utilize our megaphone to continue to activate our network into issue advocacy."
The Center for Responsive Politics gives the Obama group credit for releasing the names of its donors, "something that most politically active groups organized under section 501(c) of the U.S. tax code refuse to do."
But there have been problems, including non-functioning links to the donor list on the group's website. "After several emails to [Organizing for Action], the information reappeared on the page. The episode illustrates the capriciousness of 'voluntary' disclosure. What is given can easily be taken away….
"The information [Organizing for Action] chooses to provide about its contributors falls far short of what the Federal Election Commission requires of campaign committees. Among the key missing details: contributors’ employment information, which helps the public identify the interests behind a politician."
Also inconvenient: "Donors are listed alphabetically and the list is not sortable. That forces interested citizens to leaf through 26 web pages to find names, which makes finding patterns in the data nearly impossible."
A quick turn through the online pages reveals that a few fat-cat San Diegans have been generous givers, including Democratic billionaire and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, who last month hosted a $10,000-a-head fundraiser at his La Jolla mansion with Obama for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Jacobs gave Organizing for Action $50,000 during the first three months of this year, the disclosure shows.
Another local backing Obama's causes is La Jollan Cynthia Walk, who gave $27,100 last year and $6000 in this year's first quarter. Records show Walk, a retired German literature professor at UCSD, has given more than $82,000 to Democratic causes since 2000.
In addition, the site lists David Winkler of Del Mar as giving $5000 this year.
David Jay Winkler, a real estate financier and longtime Democratic giver, is chief executive of the Del Mar Partnership, Inc. After the firm sold the once-controversial Del Mar Plaza for an undisclosed price in 1998, Winkler's partner Ivan Gayler set up Nature and Culture International, a nonprofit dedicated to saving the world's rain forests, according to a U-T San Diego report two years ago.
Other Del Mar Partnership projects have included developments for Scripps Research Institute and UCSD, published reports say. According to a 2009 news release by Grubb & Ellis|BRE, the partnership has been involved in various big-time financial transactions, including obtaining an eight-figure loan secured by a Torrey Pines wet-lab facility (laboratories that handle often-volatile liquids, chemicals, and/or drugs).
"The line of credit will be used as part of an opportunistic $100 million real estate acquisition fund overseen by Del Mar Partnership, Inc. Targeted assets include heavily discounted notes, REO and other fee simple property in the $5 million to $100 million range, located in the western United States."
Senate lobbying records from 2010 show that in the second quarter of that year, Del Mar Partnership paid $60,000 to the Washington DC firm of DLA Piper to lobby Congress regarding the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, provisions related to partnership taxation."