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The 2012 Campaign

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Dialing for Dollars Gets a Boost from Hollywood and Wall Street

June 29th 2011

Obama Admin Topics - Obama: call me

Two Democratic groups seeking big bucks to boost President Obama’s re-election have tapped several high-powered fundraisers to help rope in $4 million to $5 million in the first two months. They’ve also snagged pledges for two to three times those sums towards their joint goal of raising at least $100 million.

The two groups, Priorities USA Action and Priorities USA, are benefiting from the help of leading Democratic fundraisers and donors such as Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, Wall Street hedge fund executive Orin Kramer and Washington lobbyist and strategist Harold Ickes.

Priorities USA Action is a 527 Super PAC which must disclose its donors and file quarterly reports, but Priorities USA, is a 501(c)(4) group that doesn’t have to reveal its donors or file regular reports. Both groups can accept unlimited checks and under law must operate separately from the Obama campaign.

The groups were set up in late April by two former high level White House aides, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, to compete with major GOP groups. “We feel like we’re ahead of where we need to be,” Burton told iWatch News. “People are feeling the urgency of what we’re doing. It’s good that some people have stepped up early.”

Burton said their efforts will counter a network of well-heeled GOP groups—including a few with close ties to Karl Rove and the billionaire Koch brothers—which together spent well over $200 million last election cycle on negative ads and get out the vote efforts to help their party win the House. Democratic allies, primarily labor unions, spent almost as much, albeit closer to the election and mostly on get out the vote efforts.

GOP allies of presidential candidate Mitt Romney have unveiled their own Super PAC, called Restore Our Future PAC, which is raising millions of dollars to boost his candidacy. If Romney wins the nomination, it would be a direct competitor to the Burton groups.

Last month, Priorities USA Action bought ads criticizing Romney in South Carolina.

To boost fundraising, Ickes was recruited to be president of the 527 Priorities USA Action. Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House, in 2004 helped spearhead a group called the Media Fund which teamed up with another Democratic group to raise about $200 million for a mix of advertising and get out the vote activities.

Ellen Malcolm, another fundraising star who founded Emily’s List, a group that historically funneled big money to women candidates, is lending a hand at Priorities USA, the affiliated 501(c)(4) group which doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

The Democratic groups have also benefitted mightily from veteran Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who is shuttling to some donor solicitations in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles and other cities.

Overall, the climate this year is more difficult for outside Democratic groups than in 2004 in part because they don’t have George W. Bush in the White House to run against, say fundraisers. Now that a Democrat is in the White House, it’s the Republicans’ turn to use the sitting president as a money-raising foil.

Another challenge facing the Democrats this year is convincing billionaire George Soros to open his checkbook wide. To date, he has only given $75,000 to the House Majority PAC. In 2004, Soros chipped in about $20 million to the Democratic groups.

The two new groups claim they cannot match dollar for dollar what some of the bigger GOP allied groups have set as goals for this election cycle. American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two groups that have relied heavily on fundraising help from political guru Karl Rove, have said they’re aiming to raise $120 million for the next election, versus the $71 million they raised in 2010.

Over the last few months, Rove has done a number of one-on-one pitches to wealthy GOP donors in a few states including Florida and Texas, say GOP fundraisers.

In an early sign of its financial strength, Crossroads GPS announced Friday that it was launching a two-month, $20 million television ad blitz attacking Obama’s record on jobs, the deficit and the overall economy. The first ads will start June 27 and run in key battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Virginia.

American Crossroads in the first six months of this year has reported raising $3.8 million, so the funds allocated for the ad blitz underscore a surge in secret donations to the two GOP groups.

Some campaign finance watchdogs and GOP groups have charged that the new Democratic effort is hypocritical since during the last elections Democrats blasted Republicans for taking secret funds through entities that didn’t have to disclose their donors.

Burton defended the use of public and secret fundraising arms. “It was our view that Rove and the Koch brothers had enough advantages and we weren’t going to give them another one by not engaging in every way they were.”

Peter H. Stone writes for iWatch News, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, from where this article is reprinted.


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