Last night, Ruby Cramer’s scoop for Buzzfeed generated a lot of, well, buzz, but how shocking is the decision by the Priorities USA Action PAC to sit out the midterms? It’s going to disappoint Democrats facing tough midterm election, certainly, but it’s not like Priorities USA did much for any Democrat but one before now:
The Democratic Party’s biggest Super PAC, recently retooled as an early pro-Hillary Clinton effort, will sit out the midterm elections this year.
A spokesman with the group, Priorities USA Action, confirmed to BuzzFeed on Wednesday night that it would not be involved in House or Senate campaigns. …
Priorities USA Action, which operates under loose campaign finance rules that allow it to raise and spend unlimited sums, put $65 million behind Barack Obama in 2012.
Yes, the super-PAC set up by former Obama staffers spent $65 million on Obama — and no one else. I mean no one else. In the 2012 cycle, they raised $79 million and spend $75 million of it according to Open Secrets, and the only “independent expenditures” it made were in opposition to one candidate, Mitt Romney. Priorities USA Action spent $65 million in that race, with the other $10 million going to various administrative and strategic tasks ($1.7 million of it went to salaries, for instance). Not a dime of their money went to down-ticket races in 2012.
So having Priorities USA Action sit on the sidelines in 2012 isn’t exactly a blow to Democratic midterm hopes, at least not directly. If they raise funds for Hillary Clinton in the middle of the midterm cycle, though, that could be a huge problem for Democrats, as it would suck resources away from their attempt to hold control of the Senate. Earlier reports about the retooling of the Obama super-PAC into a Hillary House hinted that the fundraising would begin immediately, but the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Priorities USA Action will try avoiding competition with midterm fundraising:
With Democrats fighting to keep control of the Senate in the midterms, the emergence of the pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA could eat into donations that the party’s candidates need to win in November, some Democrats warn. A number of Democratic groups are soliciting donors for money, including super PACS devoted to House and Senate races along with traditional party fundraising committees.
Aware of the anxiety, Priorities officials are considering tailoring their requests so that donors would be asked to write their biggest checks after the midterm elections are over, people close to the super PAC said. For example, Priorities might ask a donor to pledge $1 million to the Clinton effort over the next few years, but write a check for only $100,000 this year, a person familiar with the discussion said.
That’s not the only worry Democrats have with the new focus at Priorities USA. In fact, they’re more worried about 2016:
More broadly, if Mrs. Clinton glides to the nomination without a serious challenge, some Democrats say, the party would be deprived of an important debate on issues that have split the party, including government surveillance, trade pacts and how best to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“We need a vibrant, competitive primary process where not only can people sharpen their positions on different issues, but also get ready for what’s going to come in the fall [2016 general election], which is going to be brutal,” said Dick Harpootlian, a former Democratic chairman in South Carolina, which traditionally holds one of the first presidential primaries.
Bear in mind that Harpootlian’s idea of a vibrant, competitive process is getting Joe Biden involved in it, so take that with a grain of salt. Here’s the bigger problem for Democrats: This has all of the makings of an establishment takeover of their nominating process, perhaps especially if the only competition tolerated is Obama’s current VP. In this populist age, how well will this play with the party’s grassroots?