Bill Burton, the former White House deputy press secretary, left his post earlier this year to focus on raising money for President Obama’s re-election campaign. While he set an initial fundraising goal of $100 million, his results to date have been less than impressive.
With Priorities USA and its related “independent expenditure” PAC Priorities USA Action, Burton hoped to mimic the energy and success of American Crossroads, the Karl-Rove-inspired Republican group. Ordinarily reliable Democratic donors, however, are generally uninterested in supporting this organization.
Many are disillusioned with President Obama and Democrats’ political prospects. Others are unfamiliar with Burton as a fundraising force, despite his partnership with Sean Sweeney, a senior adviser to Rahm Emanuel while he was White House Chief of Staff.
Hedge fund manager Arthur Lipson, who has donated over $500,000 to Democratic organizations during the past decade, said “I will definitely not donate to Obama in any way, shape or form.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that “potential donors don’t always know who [Burton] is, which means he has to use meetings for introductions, not strictly for pitching.”
Priorities USA has spent less than $1 million on advertisements this year, while the largest Republican-oriented group has spent over $20 million.
The Obama campaign has even said privately that it is not counting on support from Burton’s organization.
Obama’s re-election efforts and the eventual GOP candidate are expected to raise $750 million each in their bids for the oval office. Outside fundraising organizations like Burton’s, or Rove’s could provide the extra edge needed to win the White House.
“We won’t be able to match Karl Rove dollar for dollar,” Burton told The Wall Street Journal. “But we have no doubt that we will have the resources necessary to be a countervailing force.”
Groups like Priorities USA and American Crossroads are organized in a way that permits anonymous contributions. During the 2010 election cycle, the president and other Democrats railed against organizations that guarantee donors’ anonymity.
Democrats’ course change has not gone unnoticed. Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, called their new tone “brazenly hypocritical.”
Still, Burton’s biggest challenge remains the disinterest of wealthy Democrats. Neither George Soros nor Peter Lewis, both major Democratic bankrollers, plan to play a major role this election. Soros is prioritizing his own giant family of left-wing organizations, while Lewis says he has “refocused his efforts on rebuilding the progressive infrastructure and modernizing marijuana laws.”
Democratic operative Steve Rosenthal believes fundraising will pick up when a GOP candidate is selected. “Fear is a great motivating factor,” Rosenthal said. “Once they see a clear and present danger, Democratic donors should respond in a pretty big way.”