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Rules of the Game: For Left, Win Lies in ‘People Power’

Democrats Try to Spin Super PAC Cash Totals

Saul Loeb/AFP/Pool
President Barack Obama pulled in more than $130 million for his campaign in 2011 and an additional $44 million through a joint fundraising committee for the DNC.

Updated: 9:20 a.m.

Democratic super PAC organizers are putting a brave face on recent disclosures that show GOP-friendly super PACs have outraised them by more than 3-to-1.

“I have no doubt that Democrats will have the resources we need to be the countervailing force” to Republican super PACs, declared former White House aide Bill Burton, a senior strategist for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action, during a recent call with reporters to tout a joint ad campaign with the Service Employees International Union.

And Democrats have “people power, versus corporate power,” argued Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a progressive membership group that rounded up $1.2 million on behalf of Democratic candidates all over the country last year in low-dollar contributions that averaged $11.04 apiece.

“The most authentic activism and communication will be done by genuinely grass-roots groups and actual candidates, as opposed to super PACs that don’t have any memberships,” said Green, who estimated that the PCCC and two other progressive groups, MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, pulled in $17 million in direct contributions and candidate donations last year. But the announcement by President Barack Obama's campaign staff that senior administration officials will now help drum up donations to the super PAC Priorities USA Action signals that Democrats are worried.

The 2011 fundraising totals made public last month by the Federal Election Commission starkly illustrate the GOP’s cash advantage. The leading pro-Democratic super PACs, along with a couple of nonprofit affiliates, collectively raised about $19 million last year.

By contrast, the top 10 pro-GOP super PACs pulled in $64 million, according to the latest Center for Responsive Politics tally. That total doesn’t even include $32 million raised by Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit associated with the leading GOP super PAC, American Crossroads.

“It should set off alarm bells,” said Neil Reiff, a partner at Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb and former deputy general counsel at the Democratic National Committee. “I definitely think this will be a tool to activate people.”

To be sure, Obama pulled in more than $130 million for his campaign in 2011 and an additional $44 million through a joint fundraising committee for the DNC. By contrast, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is looking more and more like the GOP nominee, collected only $56.7 million. And so far, at least, much of the big GOP super PAC money is hammering Republicans, not Democrats.

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