Money and Democracy

Published — January 31, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Democratic super PACs can’t keep up with GOP

Current White House Aide Bill Burton, as deputy White House press secretary in 2010. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Democratic outside spending doesn’t match Republicans


A handful of Democratic super PACs and nonprofits reported raising together just over $19 million last year, a paltry sum compared to the leading GOP groups.

The groups formed last year to help President Barack Obama win a second term and improve Democrats’ congressional fortunes.

The total is based on a joint press release the groups issued Tuesday evening. It includes more than $6.7 million for Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, started in early 2011 by two former White House aides, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney — a slow start toward their goal of roping in $100 million to spend this election year.

In the first half of last year, the two groups backing Obama raised over $5 million, which underscores their lackluster results in the second half.

Federal Election Commission filings show Priorites raised $1.2 million in the fourth quarter, which included $500,000 from the Service Employees International Union and $100,000 from movie director Steven Spielberg.

Two other groups, American Bridge 21st Century and American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, which are providing opposition research to help Obama and congressional candidates, reported that they had raised $6.5 million last year.

Founded by David Brock, the former conservative activist turned liberal firebrand, these two groups are shooting to raise between $15 million and $20 million this election season.

Of their $6.5 million, more than half or $3.7 million, was donated to the super PAC American Bridge 21st Century according to fundraising sources familiar with the results. And $2.7 million went to the foundation, a non-profit arm that doesn’t have to disclose donors’ names.

Meanwhile, Majority PAC, which was set up by close associates of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, corralled $2.7 million last year. And House Majority PAC, another super PAC that’s trying to help Democrats keep control of the House, raised just over $3 million in 2011.

The latest results announced by the Democratic groups underscore their uphill battle to compete against much better funded GOP outside groups, a struggle that’s been compounded by an Obama White House that was, at least initially, strongly critical of the historic Supreme Court ruling that made these groups possible.

The Democratic groups were started this year, well after big GOP allies like super PAC American Crossroads and its non-profit arm Crossroads GPS began to raise tens of millions in 2010. The two Crossroads groups raised $71 million for the last elections and reported today that they had raised $51 million thus far in 2011 with a goal of raising at least $240 million.

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