Democratic strategists close to President Barack Obama have launched an outside fundraising group to support his re-election, financed in part by the kind of large, undisclosed contributions the president has criticized.
Former White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney said Friday that the group, called Priorities USA, will battle the "extremist, right-wing" efforts of Republican-leaning independent groups who spent millions to defeat Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. The group's goal is to raise $100 million for what is certain to be the most expensive election in history.
American Crossroads, founded by former President George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove, and Americans For Prosperity, founded by billionaire oil brothers David and Charles Koch, spent heavily in last year's elections and have pledged to invest millions in 2012 to defeat Obama.
After the Supreme Court cleared the way last year for independent groups to raise and spend money to influence elections, many Democrats, including Obama, spoke out against such practices, suggesting it allowed large special interests to hijack the electoral process. But in an interview, Burton said Democrats could no longer stand by and allow GOP-leaning groups to hold an unfair advantage.
"It has everything to do with Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers. As long as they play by one set of rules, we're not going to be boxed in by a double standard," Burton said.
The group is expected to produce and air television ads that could begin airing as early as the coming weeks. Geoff Garin, a leading Democratic pollster who was a senior strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008, will help with survey research.
The group has received promises of fundraising help from prominent Democrats, including Ellen Malcolm, the founder of EMILY'S list which supports female candidates who back abortion rights. The Service Employees International Union and Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg also have pledged to contribute but Burton declined to say how much they would give.
Priorities USA will operate two funds: one that can work full time to influence elections and must disclose all its donors, and another focused on both issue advocacy and political activity that can keep its contributors secret.
Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, said Priorities USA was evidence of the president's "brazen hypocrisy."
"Obama, in encouraging his own operatives to start groups exactly like the ones he demagogued last year, shows how cynical this president can be when it comes to perpetuating his own power," Collegio said in a statement. He also distributed comments Obama made at a fundraising event in Philadelphia last fall in which the president said, "the American people deserve to know who's trying to sway their elections."
Priorities USA is one of several Democratic fundraising groups being created for the 2012 campaign in addition to the $1 billion Obama is expected to raise for his re-election. Others include PACs aimed specifically at raising money for House and Senate races, and an umbrella group called American Bridge that will help all the Democratic groups with opposition research. None is legally allowed to coordinate with any individual candidate or party campaign committee.
Asked Friday about Prioirities USA, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "these are not people working for our administration" and the White House cannot control the activity of outside groups.
"The president's position on disclosure remains the same," Carney said.
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