OFA fundraising down, but still attracting new donors

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This report is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics.

As it signaled a few months ago, Organizing for Action, the nonprofit spinoff from President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign that focuses on advancing his legislative agenda, saw a drop off in big donors and its overall fundraising in the second quarter: close to $3.9 million compared with almost $5.9 million the previous quarter.

But while the group promised to ease off on its pursuit of big donors needed to fund Democratic candidates, parties and super PACs, a voluntary disclosure from the organization shows several newcomers to the OFA five-figure club.

The Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics are able to name those donors in part because OFA has so far been willing to provide names of its contributors, something that most politically active groups organized under section 501(c) of the U.S. tax code refuse to do. But, as we noted the last time we analyzed its donors, Organizing for Action provides less information about its donors than campaign committees are required to provide the Federal Election Commission. Among the key missing details: contributors’ employment information, which helps the public identify the interests behind a politician.

In addition, while OFA has said it would identify all donors who gave at least $250 in a quarter, 352 individuals who had given that much or more in the first quarter of 2014 were named for the first time in the second quarter report, indicating bugs in OFA’s disclosure system — and the perils of relying on voluntary disclosure. Most of those donors, who should have been reported previously, gave the group sums in the hundreds of dollars, but three gave $1,000 or more: Justin Berns, who gave $25,000; Robert Fennell, $1,200; and Walter Lindley, $1,000. Lindley had never given to OFA, whereas the other two men were donors in 2013.

OFA had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

Overall, 375 names of individuals who had never given to OFA appeared on the list.

To verify the identity of donors, we had to call them.

One of the new donors who could not be reached is Mary W. Ebrahimi. She appears to be wife of Quark software founder, Farhad Ebrahimi. A multimillion dollar company, Quark was purchased by Platinum Equity from the Ebrahimi family in 2011. The Ebrahimi’s son, also named Farhad, is a philanthropist, founder of the Chorus Foundation, and a member of the liberal Democracy Alliance’s Board of Directors. Mary W. Ebrahimi gave $50,000 to OFA.

Others on the list could be identified with more certainty.

Nick Hanauer gave $50,000 to the advocacy group via the foundation he runs with his wife. He’s a co-founder of Seattle venture capital firm Second Avenue Partners and is also a member of the Democracy Alliance’s board of directors. Hanauer is best known, however, as a progressive firebrand who has penned articles in Bloomberg and Politico and delivered a TED talk calling for raising the minimum wage — part of a vision Hanauer deems “middle-out economics.”

The venture capitalist has sparred with Forbes and others over his economic theories (the title of his recent Politico article: The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats).

Hanauer also takes an active role in school reform. He co-founded the League of Education Voters (a dual foundation and Washington state PAC) in 2000, which — with funding from Boeing, Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among others — supports the DREAM act, universal pre-K schooling and public charter schools.

Dwayne Tucker of Brentwood, Tenn. is a vice president of the Nashville-based Compass Executives, which specializes in management consulting to “C-Level Suite” executives according to the firm’s website. Though Tucker has not been a major contributor to political campaigns in the past — data from Influence Explorer show that he has given $11,708 to Democratic committees since 2008 — the Nashville executive pitched in $25,250 to OFA. He is a former vice president of the Alliance Data Systems Corporation of Dallas, Texas, an S&P 500 company specializing in brand loyalty promotions (think rewards cards) and data-driven marketing.

Reinier Beeuwkes III is a first time donor to OFA ($20,000) but a long-term supporter of Obama’s electoral efforts. The chairman and former president of biotech company Ischemix has contributed more than $1.6 million to Democratic committees, including $600,000 to Priorities USA, the super PAC that backed Obama’s reelection bid. As Sunlight reported in 2012, his generosity has afforded the Beeuwkes plenty of face to face time with executive branch officials.

Beeuwkes and his wife Nancy have visited the White House on five separate occasions, White House visitor logs show, including a meeting with presidential aide Pete Rouse in December of 2012 and a trip to the inaugural reception after Obama’s reelection.

The sharp decline in OFA donations came despite the presence of such newcomers on in it’s five figure club — and the decline wasn’t limited to big donors. Overall, the political nonprofit brought in a total of $3.9 million from April to June, its lowest haul to date, Politico reported.

You can see all of the second quarter itemized donors (those who gave $250 or more) to OFA in the table below.

See Center for Responsive Politics’ file on OFA.

(Contributing: Sarah Bryner, Center for Responsive Politics; Bob Lannon, The Sunlight Foundation)