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Democrats Raising Money They Oppose

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“History has shown us that secret contributions in American elections are a formula for scandal and corruption,” Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said, pledging to closely monitor the groups’ activities in the months ahead.

Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform who was unseated in the Republican wave last year, said, “Democrats who mirror the right-wing tactics of Karl Rove ... do our nation no favors.”

Democrats are reconciling their actions by emphasizing that they are being as transparent as possible.

“Our donors are fully disclosed, and so are our expenditures. Anyone who wants to know where we’re getting our money from can look and see,” said Ali Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, a new super PAC focusing on reclaiming a Democratic House. “This is something many of our donors like because they believe in the idea of disclosure.”

Lapp, a former deputy director of independent expenditures at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said donors have already signaled their approval of the strategy: Just days after it officially organized, the group had raised $116,000 to spend on radio ads against 10 Republican freshmen.

She added that there are currently no plans to launch a nonprofit affiliate, which would delve into the murky waters of nondisclosure.

But Burton of the Priorities groups said having two arms does not necessarily create tension: “We let donors know what both groups do and why they are important, and donors can make their own decisions about how they want to contribute and how they want to participate.”

Monica Dixon, a veteran Democratic fundraiser leading the super PAC side of the Majority PAC/Patriot Majority duo, suggested that among her donors, enthusiasm for electing more Democrats in 2012 has overwhelmed doubts about strategy.

“There is just a strong belief among the people we’re speaking with that the stakes are higher than ever before and that we can’t sit on the sidelines in this election,” she said.

A spokesman for the American Bridge groups, Chris Harris, agreed that among Democratic donors, the time for bemoaning Citizens United is over.

“In 2010, progressives were deeply troubled by the decision and we sat on our hands in protest, but then we got stomped by the airwaves and the ballot box,” Harris said. “Politics is a prizefight. When you’re losing, you don’t whine to the referee: You fight back.”

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