President Barack Obama’s supporters are accustomed to trouncing opponents in every race for campaign cash -- until now.
Republican primary contender Mitt Romney’s supporters have donated more than twice as much money to an outside committee dedicated to boosting his campaign than Obama’s backers did for his outside groups.
According to financial disclosure reports released yesterday, Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney committee, raised $12.3 million in the first half of the year, mostly through large donations of more than $10,000.
Priorities USA Action, an Obama-centric committee, took in $3.1 million, more than half from Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of Dreamworks Animation, who helped found the group. When Priorities USA Action’s donations are added to its companion group, Priorities USA, which doesn’t disclose its donors, the combined total raised to support Obama’s re-election is about $5 million, according to a press release from the group.
Fundraising Head Start
Obama and Romney are the only presidential candidates whose supporters have created such entities to help their campaigns. Romney’s backers had a head start in the money race. They began collecting donations in January, while the pro-Obama groups didn’t open their doors until April.
Obama’s advocates are planning for a general election clash with Republican groups formed last year with the help of Karl Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush.
Restore Our Future can use its money to support Romney during the primary season, giving him an opportunity to preserve resources in his quest for the Republican nomination and in the general election, if he is the nominee.
The political action committees are independent groups that cannot legally coordinate with the candidates and campaign committees. Even so, both are comprised of former aides who are familiar with their former employers’ campaign themes and messages.
Restore Our Future’s treasurer is Charles R. Spies, who was Romney’s general counsel in the 2008 Republican primary. Its board of directors includes Carl Forti, who was political director for Romney’s primary campaign three years ago.
Priorities USA Action is a pro-Obama committee founded in April by Bill Burton, a former White House spokesman, and Sean Sweeney, a former senior White House adviser.
The pro-Romney PAC’s advantage over Obama’s supporters isn’t matched by the candidate.
The president’s campaign, Obama for America, said on July 13 it took in $47 million in the second quarter, mostly through donations of $250 or less. The Democratic National Committee raised more than $38 million.
Romney’s campaign raised $18.3 million in the same period and the Republican National Committee has raised $37 million this year. Much of Romney’s support came from the financial industry, which had been a cornerstone of Obama’s fundraising success during his 2008 presidential campaign. Wall Street investors also were big contributors to the pro-Romney independent group.
Wall Street Donors
Hedge fund manager John Paulson, who made money during the financial crisis betting against subprime mortgages, was one of four $1 million donors to the Restore Our Future PAC. The other three are corporations: F8 LLC and Eli Publishing Inc., both listed at the same address in Provo, Utah; and W. Spann LLC of New York.
Paul Edgerley, a managing director of Bain Capital LLC, the company Romney founded, and his wife Sandra, each contributed $500,000 to the Restore Our Future PAC.
J.W. Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International Inc.; his brother Richard Marriott, chairman of Host Hotels and Resorts; and Louis Moore Bacon, CEO of Moore Capital Management LP in New York, each wrote the pro-Romney group a $500,000 check.
The group’s total donations came from fewer than 100 donors, many of whom wrote checks for $100,000 or more. The smallest contribution was $3,500, more than the legal limit of $2,500 per election that an individual can donate to a candidate.
In the Democrats’ report, Katzenberg donated $2 million to Priorities USA Action. Media executive and philanthropist Fred Eychaner and the Service Employees International Union were the second-largest donors at $500,000.
Lobbyists are also among the organization’s donors. Steve Elmendorf, founder of Elmendorf Ryan and a former adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign, and David Castagnetti, a partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc. and an adviser to the 2004 presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry, each donated $5,000.
Priorities USA Action provides the first opportunity for lobbyists to make donations aimed at helping the president, although they are indirect. Obama, citing his intention to be distant from special interests, has banned lobbyist donations to his campaign and the DNC, the two primary financial engines behind his re-election committee.
Citizens United Ruling
Burton says his committees are aimed at countering efforts by pro-Republican political action committees and non-profit groups created after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that corporations and unions can spend freely to influence the outcomes of political campaigns.
“We’ve invested in early advertising to highlight Republican proposals to end Medicare and to counter Karl Rove’s $20 million in deceptive ads,” Burton said in an emailed statement.
Priorities USA Action has spent $1.3 million so far this year, according to yesterday’s filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Rove is adviser to pro-Republican groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which launched a $20 million advertising campaign earlier this month criticizing Obama’s economic policies. American Crossroads reported raising $3.8 million in the first six months of this year.
Three Democratic Groups
Priorities is working with three other new, independent Democratic groups. The groups, some of which disclose their donors, have raised more than $10 million to help re-elect Obama and to add to the Democratic ranks in Congress, according to a July 29 press release. Majority PAC, which will work with Senate candidates, raised $1.25 million in the first half of 2011. House Majority PAC took in $985,000 and American Bridge and its affiliated foundation raised $3.07 million.
Other Hollywood figures also underwrite Democratic groups. Hollywood producer Steve Bing was the biggest donor to American Bridge and the Majority Pac. He gave $250,000 to help elect Senate Democrats and $150,000 to American Bridge. Bing is a longtime friend of former President Bill Clinton, and founder of Los Angeles-based Shangri-La Industries, which develops real estate and makes films.
J.J. Abrams, who produced the television series “Lost,” gave $50,000 to Priorities USA Action and $37,500 to American Bridge.
Unions are another major source of money. SEIU gave $185,000 to the House Majority PAC, in addition to the $300,000 the union gave to American Bridge and the Senate committee.
The Democratic organizations, operating independently of candidate campaign committees and the Democratic National Committee, will copy the tactics used by Rove and his allies last year when the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives and gained six seats in the Senate. The Democratic groups plan to meet regularly to share information and resources and to target their political advertising at races where it would have greatest effect.
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