President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday took his first public steps toward transforming his massive grass-roots political machinery into an unprecedented national network to help pass his policy agenda.
Obama is calling the new network Organizing for America, and while he described it as a tool to press for policies such as fixing the health-care system, ending the Iraq war and finding new energy sources, he also said the effort would be housed in the distinctly partisan Democratic National Committee.
"The movement you've built is too important to stop growing now," Obama said in a videotaped announcement posted on YouTube and linked from an e-mail sent to more than 13 million supporters.
Obama provided few details, and an aide said that many nuts-and-bolts questions remained unresolved. But sources familiar with the planning say the new group will employ a full-time staff of hundreds of professional organizers, possibly one and two per congressional district in certain states. One source said that Obama aides have discussed an annual budget of $75 million -- an unprecedented standing political army.
A Muslim scholar chosen to speak at Obama's inaugural prayer service on Wednesday is the leader of a group that federal prosecutors say has ties to terrorists.
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is one of many speakers scheduled at the National Cathedral service. She has been the guest of honor at State Department dinners and has met with Pentagon officials during the Bush administration. Mattson, a professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn., also spoke at a prayer service at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
But in 2007 and as recently as last July, federal prosecutors in Dallas filed documents linking the Plainfield, Ind.-based group to Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization. Neither Mattson nor her organization has been charged.