Obama's data for rent?

Obama's data for rent?
Organizing for Action will have to decide just how much it's going to share.

Obama for America has some important decisions to make regarding its database now that the presidential campaign is relaunching as Organizing for Action—a 501(c)(4) nonprofit. Sure a lot of their info is in the Voter Activation Network’s database and will go to VAN’s campaign customers, but whether OFA will actually let other outside groups send emails through their own list is another question entirely. Traditionally campaigns go on to rent their lists, but it’s unclear if OFA is the type to share. “Any (c)(4) can rent their list to anyone else,” says Chris Massicotte, co-founder of DSPolitical. “But OFA has not historically rented their list to any organization or campaign.” It's a resource many progressive groups would love to get their hands on. Colin Delany, of epolitics.com, expects they’ll rent but only in limited, carefully regulated circumstances. Before they lend their list, OFA will have to ask whether the group in question is working towards the same ends and if the damage done to OFA’s cause outweighs an email’s payout. “That’s something they’re not used to,” Delany says. “They’re used to sending unlimited messages.”

OFA's transition to tax-exempt status certainly makes it the biggest kid on the block, but that reputation requires resources to maintain.

“Most candidate lists are useful for a few years and then they decline,” Delany says, noting former presidential candidate Wesley Clark's list.

On the one hand, OFA’s newfound nonprofit status allows it to build relationships with other nonprofits. On the other, it’s a lot harder to raise the funds needed to maintain a list when you’re not building towards an election, Delany says. “In theory, if you want to maintain the list you need to have the same number of volunteers all the time,” says Joe Green, president of NationBuilder. “There’s no way they’re going to do that.” OFA will never have the thousands of field organizers and volunteers it had at its disposal again, Green continues, but they can get pretty far with the base voter data and synthetic modeling based on voter behavior and census data. Maintaining the list would require renting it out to as many progressive campaigns as possible, but at that point, “Why not just give it out to the Democratic Party?” he asks. Either OFA plans on supporting a certain type of candidate, thinks they’re more capable than the Democratic National Committee or both, Green concludes. Democrats have pushed back on the notion that OFA's move out of the DNC has anything to do with Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Others are simply focused on what OFA’s relaunch means in the short term—bolstering Obama’s policy agenda.

“I just don’t think it’s that extraordinary of a story; it’s the right thing to do,” Massicotte says. “It’s the right thing to lobby on gun control and sequestration—to start getting things done.”

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