President Barack Obama's having dinner with a bunch of friends. And that's where the controversy begins.
Wednesday evening the president addresses members of Organizing for Action, which was formed out of the grassroots wing of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign -- Organizing for America -- with a mission to promote the president's policy agenda.
The president's appearance at a dinner will be the most controversial part of the two-day OFA meetings here in the nation's capital, which are being called the Founders Summit. The dinner will include roughtly 60 people, according to OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan. Both the summit and the dinner will include volunteers, neighborhood team leaders, former Obama campaign staff and donors who will shape the direction of Organizing for America. The dayside summit will consist of a series of meetings and will involve both large events and breakout sessions to think through strategy.
"OFA is a bottom up organization, and the Founders Summit is an opportunity to determine where we go from here - how to sequence and execute the issue campaigns, expand the organization, and to see the agenda a majority of Americans voted for in November through," says Ben LaBolt, the Obama re-election campaign national press secretary, who is advising OFA, which was created in January.
Hours before the dinner, OFA kicked off its meetings with a sort of pep rally and strategy session for attendees at the swank St. Regis Hotel -- just steps away from the White House. On hand were Jim Messina, who steered Obama's 2012 re-election, David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, and Jon Carson, OFA's executive director.
"When we set out to build this next iteration of OFA, our primary goal was to help build something to organize every American on behalf of this president's legislative agenda - the same priorities that millions and millions of Americans voted for on Election Day 2012," Messina said.
"You'll remember, from the campaign, when President Obama was criticized for saying you can't change Washington from the inside. But the truth is, he was right. If Americans don't organize, in support of the issues they believe in, and we don't help him do it, then lobbyists and special interests will drive Washington just like they did for decades."
Messina added: "In the first seven weeks, with a very small staff, over 1.1 million Americans... have done at least one volunteer action for Organizing for Action."
The real scrutiny of the group will come after the day's sessions, at the dinner that will feature the president.
It comes amid criticism that the group, which is registered as a non-profit, social-welfare organization, plans to grant special access to the president for top OFA donors--a claim that Messina has attempted to rebuke.