Democrats Start Two Campaign Fundraising Groups for 2012

Democrats with ties to President Barack Obama are starting two fundraising efforts outside of his official 2012 re-election campaign designed to counter similar Republican groups that have raised millions of dollars.

Two new entities, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, were created to match political money raised by organizations led by Karl Rove and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries Inc. Priorities USA will pursue the kind of unlimited and secret donations Obama has said he opposes.

“While we agree that fundamental campaign finance reforms are needed, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers cannot live by one set of rules as our values and our candidates are overrun with their hundreds of millions of dollars,” Bill Burton, a former deputy White House spokesman who is now a senior strategist for both groups, said in an e-mailed statement. “We will follow the rules as the Supreme Court has laid them out, but the days of the double standard are over.”

The formation of the groups today was reported earlier by Politico.

Obama has repeatedly expressed opposition to such groups. In an Aug. 21 radio address, he questioned their role in last year’s midterm congressional elections, calling them “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names.”

Obama Criticism

The president especially criticized the lack of disclosure requirements.

“We don’t know who’s behind these ads and we don’t know who’s paying for them,” he said. “They can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads -- and worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who is actually paying for them.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama’s position on fundraising by outside groups hasn’t changed.

“These are not people working for the administration and we can’t control their activity,” Carney told reporters traveling with Obama to view tornado damage in Alabama. “The president’s position on disclosure remains the same, he believes it’s vitally important.”

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision made it easier for political groups to take corporate and labor union money and run ads specifically advocating the election or defeat of a candidate. The new Democratic groups said they were organizing because of the potential that Republicans taking advantage of the ruling will “raise and spend $500 million this cycle.”

Disclosure Rules

Priorities USA Action will report regularly to the Federal Election Commission and disclose its donors. The group will be able to take in unlimited donations from individuals, corporations and unions, though it cannot make direct contributions to candidates. Priorities USA will not have to disclose its donors.

The Rove groups have a similar arrangement, with American Crossroads disclosing donors and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies allowing contributors to remain anonymous. Together they raised $71 million for the 2010 campaign and set a goal of taking in $120 million for 2012. The two Crossroads groups reported spending $38 million on political ads to the FEC, more than any other outside organization.

The Kochs support an advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, that reported spending $1.2 million to help elect Republican candidates in the 2010 elections, according to FEC reports. David Koch is head of the related Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which said it spent at least $5.5 million on ads last year criticizing the government’s economic stimulus in districts of House Democrats who faced close re-election campaigns.

Republican Spending

Republican-leaning outside groups spent almost $100 million more than Democratic organizations during the 2010 elections, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington-based research group. That nullified an unprecedented fundraising advantage by Democratic Party political committees.

Except for American Crossroads, none of the biggest spending Republican-leaning groups disclosed their donors.

The new Democratic groups were criticized by Republicans.

“Obama’s brazen hypocrisy, in encouraging his own operatives to start groups exactly like the ones he demagogued last year, shows how cynical this president can be when it comes to perpetuating his own power,” Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, said in an e-mailed statement.

Leaders of Groups

The leadership of the Democratic groups will also include Sean Sweeney, a former senior adviser to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor-elect of Chicago. Like Burton, Sweeney will serve as senior strategists to both groups, according to statement from the groups. Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and onetime political adviser to former President Bill Clinton, will be an adviser.

“Americans deserve an honest debate about job creation, the economy, national security and education,” Sweeney said in a statement. “That debate will never happen if only right-wing extremists are engaged on the battlefield.”

Some of the first contributions to the new groups came from the Service Employees International Union, one of the largest in the U.S., and Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is also going to help raise money for the effort, Burton said in an e-mail.

Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager and a former deputy White House chief of staff, has tried to tamp down predictions that the president’s campaign organization will raise $1 billion for the 2012 campaign. Still, he has put together an early fundraising schedule that has already raised millions from stops this month in Illinois, California and New York.

Top bundlers, who solicit money from a wide circle of donors, have been asked to collect at least $350,000 this year alone. Four years ago, members of Obama’s national finance committee were asked to raise $250,000 for the 2007-08 election cycle.

The higher bar has been set in part because Democrats also don’t know whether Obama will be helped or hurt by Republican efforts to handicap labor, a big source of Democratic money. The governors of Wisconsin and Ohio have signed bills making it harder for unions to collect dues.

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