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First POST: How to Organize

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, January 23 2013

How to Organize for Action

  • Follow the money: After Sunday's kick-off event for Obama for America's successor organization it's clear the spirit is willing, but can the pocketbook deliver? Keepers of the Obama flame are gambling, for now, that former campaign volunteers have the gumption to organize local groups and raise money in those groups in order to pay for access to the Democratic voter file and maintain their own field offices. These groups will advocate for the president's agenda locally, putting pressure on their members of Congress.

    It's still unclear how much that local fundraising is expected to pay for. TechPresident doesn't have all the answers yet but we hear, just like everybody else seems to be hearing, that no final decisions have been revealed about which aspects of the Obama campaign's technological infrastructure will be maintained, who will keep it up to scratch and how exactly they'll pay for it. We reported yesterday that infrastructure will remain property of Obama for America and be leased out to whomever wants to license it, like Organizing for Action or the Democratic Party. And at least one volunteer we spoke to who attended the weekend event, the Obama Legacy Conference, seems to think that even the fundraising model on offer now might be tweaked in the days ahead.

    Nancy Scola wrote that Obama alumni are hoping to "rethink the mechanics of American politics one more time:"

    Campaigns traditionally scatter to the winds, whether the candidate wins or loses, after election day. That's wasteful, goes the thinking -- all the more so with a team that produced some 155 million door knocks and phone calls and 1.8 million new voter registrations, not to mention 332 Electoral College votes.

    So Organizing for Action wants to replicate those tactics now that they're done putting Barack Obama in office. "We will run ads" in districts where the data show Republicans out of step with constituents on gun control, Carson said. "We will be on their Facebook pages." And OFA will use well-honed campaign tactics to achieve policy goals, including a goal of registering 40 million people who are newly eligible for insurance under Obamacare.

    It's an ambitious plan that is creating some more low-tech worries for state parties, who are concerned that this organization will crowd them out in the competition for local activists and fundraising dollars. It's also, as Scola writes, a wholly untested, wholly new rethinking of the permanent campaign, one that might prompt a further evolution of campaign-trail tools and tactics.

We the Sheeple

  • POSTers see it first: As the White House's online petitions initiative, "We the People," gains popularity, it's been coming under fire. Should the White House, doubters ask, really be wasting their time with a petition calling for the creation of a Death Star? Yes, Micah Sifry writes — because it is finally an example of government engaging with citizens rather than trying and failing to gain traction elsewhere. Firstly, the White House will play communications judo with every petition to which it responds, trying to start a dialogue with critics, to keep supporters energized and to highlight its policy wins. It is not a tool for accountability, it is a tool for engagement, and on that front it has done quantitatively well. Secondly, journalists critiquing the subject matter of petitioners should first put their own house in order. In the past month, the White House press corps has asked the president's spokesman about Manti Te'o, Robert Griffin III, and Gerard Depardieu. Meanwhile, the White House used a We the People petition to signal a softening of its policy on marijuana. Which makes one wonder: If a handful of people can ask the White House a silly question multiple times a day, why are they so angry that any 100,000 people can ask the White House any question once?

Around the Web

  • New York State is launching a new transparency portal today.

  • So is New York City. TechPresident got an early look last week as a follow-up to the preview that officials at New York City Comptroller John Liu's office gave us when the project was announced last year.

    Checkbook 2.0, as it's called, takes a web portal initially designed to put the city's checkbook online and beefs it up considerably. In a demo last week, we were able to view spending citywide, by agency, and even by contract. We were also able to access information about individual vendors and track payroll information by title, if not by name.

    The New York City Comptroller's effort also offers up data in bulk format and through an API. An official in Liu's office told us that the entire package will be open-sourced in the months to come, but the work of open-sourcing the software — cleaning up the code, documenting it and so forth — was not yet complete. The software was designed to sit on top of what we were told is widely-used accounting software offered by the company CGI, which is what New York uses.

  • International

    • Newly elected Israeli lawmakers are turning to the task of forming a coalition government. On the fringes: a nascent Pirate Party movement.

    • Chinese GitHub users report their access to the site is in flux apparently because of state action.

    • Concerned with the implications of media regulations within countries, the Financial Times argues for a solution: Have the European Commission regulate the regulators. The Guardian (UK) flags the news.

    • The International Budget Survey is out, ranking the transparency and accountability of budgeting information in over 100 countries.