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What Kind of Legacy, Mr. President?

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Would you like some face time with the president of the United States, a chance perhaps to share your ideas about how he might perk up the still-lagging economy, make our schools safer from deranged gunmen or bring peace to the Middle East?

Write a check for $500,000 to Organizing for Action (OFA), his new nonprofit advocacy group. They'll arrange for you to meet with the man himself.

The Los Angeles Times reports that President Obama's campaign "bundlers," people who tapped their business and personal networks last year to raise big money for his reelection, are being courted by OFA as it gears up to lobby for the president's legislative agenda. OFA organizers, the newspaper says, are considering offering bundlers who raise $500,000 a chance to meet with Obama four times a year.

And so the president who gained office largely on promises to change Washington and stem the obscene flow of money into our political system immerses himself more deeply in the capital's pay-to-play culture.

Shame on him.

His second term, when he no longer has to worry about raising money for another campaign and delivering favors to the people, companies and groups providing it, was supposed to be Obama's opportunity to reveal himself as a real reformer.

But in establishing OFA and through it extending an open palm to Washington's corps of lobbyists and their masters, Obama is in danger of hitting the history books as a president who gamed, exploited, and ultimately joined a corrupt system rather than cleaning it up.

The president's pattern is now well-established. Consider:

  • He promised to fix our broken system of public financing for presidential campaigns, then walked away and left it for dead while raising hundreds of millions of dollars from special interests in two national campaigns.
  • He condemned the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and the flood of money it invited into our elections, then allowed his associates to solicit million-dollar gifts to help him win a second term and pay for his inaugural celebration. He apparently intends to appeal openly for corporate support to OFA.
  • He endorsed the DISCLOSE Act and its provisions promoting transparency in political fundraising and spending but has done nothing to advance it. The Times reports that OFA will reveal its donors but will provide only a general idea of how much each has contributed. Call it DISCLOSE lite.
  • He's done nothing to fill vacancies on the Federal Election Commission, now paralyzed by partisan divisions and unable or unwilling to enforce the few election laws not decimated by the Supreme Court.
  • He's watched passively as the Internal Revenue Service permitted operatives in both major parties to create tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations that allow millionaires and corporations to buy the allegiance of our elected officials through millions of dollars in secret "independent expenditures" benefiting their campaigns.

What once would have been considered scandal is now routine. Millions of dollars in secret money flows freely from the corporate suites scattered along the Capital Beltway through K Street's lobby shops and up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and the Capitol. The people providing it enjoy billions in tax loopholes, overbill the government for everything from prescription drugs for our seniors to fighter jets for our Air Force and Navy, and collect handsome year-end bonuses for making decisions that ran our economy into the ground. And that's just for starters.

Millions of Americans voted for Barack Obama thinking he understood what's happening and would do something about it. Instead, he's making things worse. He still has time to change course and I'm enough of an optimist to hold out hope that he will.

But it's getting tougher.