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Pro-Obama group raises $8.2 million in second quarter

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a light reference to old movie special effects while speaking about award recipient George Lucas who creat
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a light reference to old movie special effects while speaking about award recipient George Lucas who creat

By Gabriel Debenedetti

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Organizing for Action, the independent advocacy group dedicated to advancing President Barack Obama's agenda, raised more than $8.2 million in its second quarter of operation, the group said on Friday.

The total surpassed the nearly $5 million OFA raised during the first three months of the year, after it was launched as a nonprofit successor to the Democratic president's 2012 re-election campaign.

Led by former Obama advisers including Jim Messina, who was a deputy chief of staff, OFA represents the first time a sitting president's team has been used to form such an advocacy group.

Through campaign-style rallies and TV and Internet ads, the group has promoted Obama's positions on issues such as gun control and overhauling the nation's immigration laws.

But OFA's effectiveness in shaping opinions in Washington remains unclear: So far, Obama's efforts to get such major parts of his second-term agenda through Republican resistance on Capitol Hill have largely fallen short.

OFA operates independently from the White House, and is not required to disclose its donors. Even so, the group has decided to identify donors who give at least $250, noting the vow by Obama, who initially opposed using nonprofit groups to advance his cause, to bring more transparency to campaign finance.

OFA publicly focuses on small donations and grassroots support, but in the second quarter the group drew 19 donors who gave at least $50,000 and 41 who donated at least $5,000.

The group's average contribution was $55, and it has received money from more than 237,000 people since forming.

The second quarter's biggest donors were Newsweb Corp executive Fred Eychaner of Chicago and David Shaw, founder of the New York-based D.E. Shaw & Co. investment firm. They each gave OFA $500,000.

Both Eychaner and Shaw were "bundlers" for Obama's re-election campaign, meaning they donated and collected tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from others. Neither donated to OFA during the first quarter, when the largest donor was New York philanthropist Philip Munger.

Munger gave $250,000 in the first three months of the year but did not donate to OFA in the second quarter.

The donor list sheds light on OFA's ability to draw support outside of election season: the major contributors include many longtime friends of the White House and the Democratic Party.

California venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi was the most generous repeat donor in the new report, tacking $75,000 onto his $50,000 first-quarter donation. Utah venture capitalist Ryan Smith added $50,000 to his first-quarter gift of $50,875.

The group's first-quarter donations came during the dry fundraising period that typically follows a national election.

The Washington Post reported in June that OFA cut its annual donation goal in half because of slow fundraising progress.

OFA came under fire in February, soon after its founding, when The New York Times reported that donors of $500,000 or more would be invited to quarterly meetings with the president. White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected the notion that the group was selling access to Obama.

(Editing by David Lindsey and Doina Chiacu)

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