Montage Resort at Laguna Beach

Peter Bond
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The palatial Montage resort in sunny Laguna Beach provided a luxurious spot for wealthy liberal donors to relax and listen to pitches from Democratic activists seeking big bucks.

Little wonder that leaders of four fledgling Democratic groups aiming to raise tens of millions for the 2012 elections flew out west earlier this month to woo dozens of donors and advisers to the rich.

Most of the contributors in attendance belong to the Democracy Alliance, a network of affluent liberals which hosted the seaside event April 14-16.

The meeting drew the likes of Rob McKay, the heir to the Taco Bell fortune, and Pat Stryker, whose family founded the medical giant Stryker Corp. Also on hand were Michael Vachon, the political adviser to billionaire George Soros, and Marge Tabankin, who advises Hollywood celebrities such as Barbra Streisand and “Lost” executive producer J.J. Abrams.

The Democratic operatives from Washington who were in attendance included: Sean Sweeney, a former top White House aide who will soon help launch an independent group hoping to raise upwards of $100 million to help President Obama win a second term; Rebecca Lamb, a veteran strategist for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who will help spearhead Majority PAC; Ali Lapp, a former top official at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the 2006 elections, who will run the House Majority PAC; and David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century, a group that will focus on doing opposition research.

These and other Democratic operatives at the semiannual event explained their missions to the Democracy Alliance at an April 14 dinner.

The effort to bolster Obama is the most ambitious. Sweeney is poised to start it in the next few weeks with Bill Burton, a former deputy director of communications at the White House. Sweeney and Burton have met in recent weeks with potential donors in Los Angeles and New York and have had some early success: Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg has indicated he plans to help them.

It will strive to compete with deep pocketed GOP groups such as American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together roped in $71 million last year with the guidance of Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush’s political guru. The two entities have said they hope to raise $120 million for the 2012 elections.

The new Democratic groups are mostly super PACs which are allowed to accept unlimited donations. The three that have been formally established are each set up with two arms—one of which will have to disclose donors’ identities, and the other can accept funds from individuals who want to keep their names out of the public.

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