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Democratic Groups in Talks to Merge Fundraising

The five main Democratic supercommittees are in discussions to consolidate their fundraising efforts to create a clearinghouse for big-dollar donors who want to write a single seven-figure check.

Struggling to keep pace with Republican organizations formed by Karl Rove, the groups want to end the confusion that some contributors have expressed to them about which organization to support, according to two people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity.

Harold Ickes, president of Priorities USA Action, which backs President Barack Obama, confirmed that the groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions, are in talks on how to make it easier for big donors to help their party in 2012.

“In order to assure success for Democratic groups this cycle, we are discussing the linking up of our forces to work together to raise money,” said Ickes. “We never thought we’d raise as much money as the right-wing money machine,” he said, “but we’re confident we’ll have enough to be a strong countervailing force.”

The groups haven’t settled on a formula for allocating the funds, and they would retain exclusive control over where and how to spend money in 2012, according to the two people.

Pooled Pitching

The five groups are Priorities, founded by former White House spokesman Bill Burton to help re-elect Obama; House Majority PAC, an organization dedicated to returning the House to Democratic control; Majority PAC, a group working to keep the Senate under Democratic control; America Votes, a group affiliated with Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily’s List; and American Bridge 21st Century, a group that fact-checks Republican and conservative claims.

“It’s smart strategy to pool the pitching,” said Michael Meehan, a Democratic strategist.

“With a small, finite universe of individual donors at this giving level, the competition for these large funds is intense,” he said. “The ideological nature of these donors sometimes allows for inaction, as they are torn.”

As someone who has helped Majority PAC raise money this cycle and coordinated outside spending in the 2004 campaign, Ickes is in a position to persuade the different PACs to streamline their outreach to potential top donors like George Soros, according to one of the people.

Limited Coordination

The groups would limit their coordination to high-dollar donors and fend for themselves in soliciting checks from the kind of activists who typically write six-figure, not seven- or eight-figure checks.

While Obama’s presidential campaign has trounced his closest Republican challengers in total dollars raised and cash on hand, the Democratic-leaning outside groups haven’t achieved financial parity with the Republican ones, like American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which started a $20 million advertising campaign over the summer criticizing Obama’s economic policies.

“We will never be as organized as Republicans as to how we solicit donors for the various groups,” said Steve Elmendorf, founder of Elmendorf Ryan and an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. “Crossroads is the go-to group for anything Republican.”

“It has been slower getting going on our side,” Elmendorf said. “Once it’s clear that there is one candidate on the Republican side and that person is a threat to Barack Obama, people are going to focus on what they need to do to stop this.”

Supreme Court’s Role

In April, Burton and Sean Sweeney, a former senior White House adviser, founded Priorities USA Action and a companion group, Priorities USA, to counter pro-Republican groups that cropped up after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts in political campaigns.

The political action committee is organized under section 527 of the U.S. tax code and is required to disclose its donors. The other group, classified as a 501c4 non-profit, isn’t required to report who funds it.

The two committees combined had raised about $5 million at the end of July, according to a press release, and they plan to raise $100 million during this election cycle.

$61.4 Million in Bank

Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign raised $42.1 million from July through September, including $9 million from a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee. The president has raised $88 million for his re-election and spent $29 million, leaving him with $61.4 million in the bank, according to financial-disclosure reports released Oct. 15.

That is four times what the two leading Republican fundraisers, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have on hand.

Obama’s advocates are planning for a general-election clash with Republican groups formed last year with the help of Rove, top political adviser to former President George W. Bush. Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads, said that a name like Rove helps open up doors with donors.

“Part of their struggle is donor confusion,” he said. “But part is frankly that they don’t have the equivalent of Karl Rove or Haley Barbour bolstering their efforts.”

-with Assistance from Kristin Jensen and Jonathan Salant in Washington and John McCormick in Chicago. Editors: Mark Silva, Robin Meszoly

To contact the reporter on this story: Hans Nichols in Washington at hnichols2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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