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Center for Public Integrity: Pro-Clinton Super PAC Paid Operatives

By    |   Saturday, 23 May 2015 12:16 PM

Priorities USA Action, a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC that has been slammed by liberals for not bringing in enough money, paid thousands to two Democratic operatives during a time when it was dormant and not raising funds or spending reserves on midterm candidates, the Center for Public Integrity says.

Payments went to Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, or companies that were connected to them, in 2013 and 2014, according to an investigation by the CPI, while Priorities USA Action, which formerly supported Barack Obama, remained quiet.

In addition, it spent nearly $2 million on expenses, including rent, salaries, legal fees and more while positioning itself, beginning in 2013, to become the main super PAC to back Clinton, almost two years before the former first lady and Secretary of State announced her candidacy, the report reveals.

Of that money, hundreds of thousands was spent on pay for Burton and Sweeney, the Center reports. The two men founded the super PAC in 2011 in support of Obama's re-election bid, and both are former Obama White House aides.

The super PAC is having trouble raising money, The Wall Street Journal reported  Wednesday, and expects to collect just $15 million through the end of June, so it has been making changes in its senior staff. So far, the organization has raised just $5 million in "hard commitments."

But super PACs like Priorities do not face limitations on their collections, and as Clinton's major fundraising organization has plans to buy expensive advertising for her as the 2016 nears.

In comparison, some PACs backing Clinton's potential Republican rivals are bringing in millions more, including groups backing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who have already raised more than $31 million, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose team has already broken GOP fundraising records, even though he has not officially announced his campaign.

One of Priorities' leaders is Obama's 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, who helped lead British Prime Minister David Cameron's successful but surprise re-election bid earlier this month.

According to records filed with the Federal Election Commission, Priorities paid Burton $30,394 and Sweeney $24,781 directly in early 2013, ending the payroll disbursements by March 2015, when Burton left the super PAC's staff to join the public affairs firm Global Strategy Group.

But also beginning in early 2013, the Center's report says, Priorities started paying Independence Avenue LLC, a limited liability company that incorporated in Washington D.C. for "strategy and media consulting." Over two years, $220,000 went to the company, whose incorporation records list Sweeney and Burton as its only members.

In addition, Priorities USA Action is the only super PAC sending payments to Independence Avenue LLC for services, according to an analysis of FEC reports.

Also, the super PAC had a sister nonprofit company, called Priorities USA that paid Independence Avenue $150,000 for "communication and strategy." The sister company folded in 2013, and according to an Internal Revenue Service filing, the $150,000 went personally to Sweeney.

The nonprofit also paid $200,000 in 2013 to Global Strategy Group, where Burton was executive vice president until he joined SKDKnickerbocker in January 2015, the Center report shows.

Sweeney also works as a partner for the Messina Group, a consulting firm started by Jim Messina, who was Obama's campaign manager in 2012.

Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for Priorities USA Action, along with Burton and Sweeney did not comment on the Center report.

Burton and Sweeney were not the only consultants to get payments from the super PAC in 2013 and 2014.

The super PAC paid Paul Begala, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and consultant for Priorities USA Action $240,000 and another $127,000 in 2014 to the Ashmead Group, whose president, Diana Rogalle, has worked as a senior advisor for the super PAC.

Priorities USA Action gave $1.4 million to other PACs during the 2014 election cycle, the
Center reports, with most going to super PACs making unsuccessful pushes to elect Democratic House and Senate majorities.

The shakeup is expected to push Guy Cecil, who has served in the past as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager in 2008, to take over as chief executive officer and co-chairman. The Center reports that Messina will likely take a reduced role in the super PAC, and that Buffy Wicks, Priorities USA Action’s executive director, is leave to work either with the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee.

Anne Caprara, the vice president of campaigns at EMILY’s List, a political committee that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, is expected to replace Wicks.

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Priorities USA Action, a pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC that has been slammed by liberals for not bringing in enough money, paid thousands to two Democratic operatives during a time when it was dormant and not raising funds or spending reserves on midterm candidates, the...
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Saturday, 23 May 2015 12:16 PM
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