Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of Dreamworks Animation, donated $2 million to a group founded by former White House aides who are working to help President Barack Obama win a second term.
Media executive and philanthropist Fred Eychaner and the Service Employees International Union were the second-largest donors to Priorities USA Action, the committee founded by Bill Burton, a former White House spokesman, and Sean Sweeney, a former senior White House adviser. Each wrote a check for $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 Democratic National Committee, the two primary financial engines behind his re-election committee.
Priorities USA Action, which discloses its donors, and Priorities USA, an affiliated group that keeps its contributors’ names secret, have raised a combined total of more than $5 million since their founding in April.
Burton v. Rove
Burton’s group intends to counter similar efforts by pro-Republican political action committees and non-profits created in the 2010 midterms with the guidance of Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s political adviser, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee 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 email.
Priorities USA Action has spent $1.3 million so far this year, according to today’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, only 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 press release issued July 29. 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.