viernes, 6 de abril de 2012

El Super PAC de Obama no despega

The Wall Street Journal:
After Bill Burton failed to win the job of White House press secretary last year, he took a position nobody else wanted—helping lead a super PAC to help re-elect the president.

At the time, President Barack Obama was openly hostile to super PAC fundraising for giving rich donors more influence. Now, Mr. Obama and senior advisers who passed over Mr. Burton are reliant on the 34-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native to help them stay employed a second term.

So far, they have cause for worry. Mr. Burton's super PAC, Priorities USA Action, and a companion nonprofit group was at the end of February about one-tenth of the way toward its goal of raising $100 million, struggling with inexperience and missteps against more successful super PACs supporting Republican candidates.

Although the Obama re-election campaign has collected about $157 million, more than the four GOP presidential candidates combined, Priorities USA Action is getting trounced by the anti-Obama super PACs, which have raised more than $100 million by the end of February, a number that doesn't include money going to related nonprofit groups.

(...) Obama campaign staffers worry conservative groups will swamp the airwaves with negative ads that might go unanswered without a robust super PAC war chest. The super PAC supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for example, spent millions of dollars on TV and radio ads to counter surges by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Picking up a million-dollar donation isn't as easy as walking into an office and asking for a check. "Fundraising is an art form," said Harold Ickes, chairman of the Priorities USA board and a White House adviser to former President Bill Clinton. For most of the past year, he said, the sophistication needed to lure seven-figure donations—the kind going to GOP-leaning coffers—has been lacking at Priorities USA.

(...) David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser, recalled when campaign manager Jim Messina invited him to his office in the Chicago headquarters in February. On a white board, Mr. Messina tallied what each major GOP super PAC would likely spend. The total reached $700 million.

"That was an astonishing amount of money and it was obvious that whether we liked it or not, these are the rules of the game now," Mr. Axelrod said. "We just decided that we couldn't play touch while they were playing tackle."

(...) One low point for Priorities USA came in January, when it raised $58,816 and paid $43,779 in salaries and consulting fees to Mr. Burton, his partner and Mr. Begala.

Hoping to raise money and enthusiasm, Priorities USA tells prospects the pro-Romney super PAC will raise $250 million. They predict Mr. Romney—if the GOP nominee—and his conservative allies could spend $1.6 billion by November, nearly twice what the president and his supporters would collect absent any contribution from Priorities USA.

Republicans scoff. "That's outrageously exaggerated," said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group. "It fits a pattern of this administration always seeking villains." He said the Obama forces would, in the end, "vastly outspend the other side in 2012."

The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending, said both sides could raise as much as $6 billion for the 2012 election, including spending by super PACs and other outside groups. In 2008, the two sides spent $2.9 billion in the presidential race, the center said.

Some Obama campaign aides say privately that Mr. Burton lacks the stature of others who have raised large sums for presidential campaigns—Terry McAuliffe, a friend and golf buddy of Mr. Clinton's, for example, and Donald Evans, a former Commerce Secretary for former President George W. Bush. But they are restrained from taking action by laws that forbid campaigns from coordinating with super PACs.

(...) Mr. Burton now spends hours each day talking to donors and reporters. He flies around the U.S. meeting potential contributors, often with Mr. Begala. Part of the pitch is a 16-page brochure that bashes the so-called right-wing money machine and warns of conservative views on abortion, evolution and global warming.

Priorities USA and a companion nonprofit arm, which isn't required to disclose the names of its donors, collected a total of about $10 million by the end of February. By contrast, Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, has taken in about $43 million over the same period. The super PAC American Crossroads and an affiliated nonprofit group—advised by Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff for Mr. Bush—have collected more than $59 million, a spokesman said, with the goal of raising $300 million to assist GOP candidates.

Chris Korge, a longtime Democratic fundraiser in Miami, said Priorities USA should collect from loyal Obama donors before asking Clinton donors. "My advice to the super PAC fundraisers is to focus first on donors who are the president's most notable and loyal contributors," he said. "Once other potential large contributors see they are engaged and invested in the super PAC, they will contribute."

(...) Mr. Obama's new support of the super PAC is helping drive up donations and attendance at super PAC events. Priorities USA hosted its first meeting in New York about 10 months ago. Fifty invitations were mailed, four people showed.

This year, 30 invitations were sent for a March event at the Yale Club in New York. Nearly all attended. A big draw was senior Obama aide, David Plouffe, who has added super PAC appearances to his White House duties.

It isn't too late for a rebound. In February, the group hired Diana Rogalle, a veteran Democratic Party fundraiser.

Donors will eventually appreciate the stakes in the 2012 presidential election, Mr. Burton said. He hopes it comes in time. If million-dollar checks don't arrive until fall, he said, it could be too late.