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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Big Money and Priorities USA

Priorities USA, the politically active nonprofit that backed President Barack Obama's re-election in 2012, raised $8.4 million in 2012, with most of it coming from just five donors.

The group spent more than half its budget -- just under $5 million -- on grants to other nonprofits. The single largest recipient of the organization's largesse was Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which was given $2.2 million.

Priorities USA's $8.4 million in revenues isn't much compared to the funds raised by some of the conservative social welfare nonprofits that targeted Obama and other Democrats in 2012. Still, it's not insignificant, and the reliance on such a small number of donations is almost exactly the scenario that Obama predicted would occur as a result of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Priorities USA was founded last year by a handful of former Obama aides, including former deputy press secretary Bill Burton (pictured at right in orange tie). Like other 501(c)(4) groups, it does not publicly disclose its donors' identities. However, its tax forms -- which were filed Friday but not released until yesterday -- show that it took in 22 donations last year that ranged from $5,000 to $2 million. Donations of less than $5,000 don't have to be listed on the forms.

Besides the $2 million check, there were three $1 million gifts, one of $900,000, and three of $500,000 each, meaning that 89 percent of the group's total revenues came from eight donors at most -- fewer if the same person or organization gave twice. Each of the grants is marked as coming from a "person," but the term applies to donors that are "individuals, fiduciaries, partnerships, corporations, associations, trusts, and exempt organizations," under IRS rules.
On September 16, 2010, the president said:
 Because if you don't think the stakes are large—and I want you to consider this—right now, all across the country, special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates. Because last year, there was a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. They're allowed to spend as much as they want without ever revealing who's paying for the ads. That's exactly what they're doing—millions of dollars. And the groups are benign-sounding: Americans for Prosperity. Who's against that? [Laughter] Or Committee for Truth in Politics. Or Americans for Apple Pie, Moms for Motherhood—I made those last two up. [Laughter]
None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads. You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company. You don't even know if it's a foreign-controlled entity.
In some races, they are spending more money than the candidates. Not here, because here the candidate's spending a lot of money. [Laughter]
They're spending more money than the parties. They want to take Congress back and return to the days where lobbyists wrote the laws. It is the most insidious power grab since the monopolies of the Gilded Age. That's happening right now. So there's a lot of talk about populist anger and grassroots, but that's not what's driving a lot of these elections.