April 29, 2011– Looking to counter Republicans who poured money into the 2010 election, much of it from anonymous donors, Democrats formed their own group today that will do the same.
Bill Burton, former White House deputy press secretary and an adviser for Priorities USA. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Priorities USA, being advised by two former White House aides, is copying Republican techniques and organizing itself under the tax code in a way that does not require it to disclose donors, and can accept money from lobbyists, corporations and unions. It hopes to raise $100 million this political cycle.
That puts the White House in a tricky position. Last year, President Barack Obama and other Democrats repeatedly attacked Republican groups for not naming its contributors. The president said the money is “not just a threat to Democrats, that’s a threat to our democracy.”
Today, the White House spokesman tried to distance the president from the new group — without exactly telling the organizers to cease and desist.
“We don’t control outside groups,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said aboard Air Force One today. “These are not people working for the administration.”
But just a few months ago, the organizers were doing just that. Bill Burton was deputy press secretary and Sean Sweeney was a senior adviser to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Former Clinton political strategist Paul Begala is also aboard the new effort.
Early donors include the Service Employees International Union and movie producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. Other supporters who will help raise money and offer advice include Ellen Malcolm, founder of the abortion rights group Emily’s List; former Clinton adviser Harold Ickes; Democratic fund-raiser Jay Dunn; Greg Speed, a media consultant; Rob McKay, a liberal activist and philanthropist; and the SEIU’s Jon Youngdahl.
Under the tax code, Priorities USA will be a social welfare group, meaning it is not required to disclose donors. The group is officially focused on issues, but will push the Obama agenda, organizers suggested in a news release. “It will advocate for economic policies that generate jobs here in America through innovation, education and investment in the infrastructure vital to our future success,” it said, naming Mr. Obama’s three oft-stated priorities.
The Republican group Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, is organized in the same way. “The days of the double standard are over,” Mr. Burton said in a statement.