It’s not as though Democratic donors are closing their wallets to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign-in-waiting, per se. It seems, though, that the disorganization and competing interests within Clinton’s political organization are making the process of contributing to the Democratic Party’s anointed 2016 nominee a frustrating task.
According to a report in Politico on Wednesday, Clinton’s primary Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, recently set a goal of securing pledged donations of at least $1 million from 30 prospective donors before the former secretary of state formally jumps into the race. There’s just one problem: They’re still 20 donors short. What’s more, Priorities USA Action is “encountering resistance from top donors who have given to other Clinton-linked vehicles, including ostensibly aligned super PACs and even the apolitical Clinton Foundation.”
Discussions have focused on trying to supercharge the sluggish fundraising by enlisting help from heavyweight surrogates with close ties to the Clintons, including possibly Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe or investment banker Tom Nides, who served under Hillary Clinton at the State Department, according to sources.
Priorities, which has worked to reinvent itself after helping President Barack Obama win reelection in 2012, has been buffeted by disagreements over its mission, as well as its fundraising strategy and goals, according to interviews with about a dozen Democratic donors and operatives working to lay the groundwork for an expected Clinton campaign.
Priorities occasionally has clashed behind the scenes with other groups working toward the same goal. The tensions spilled out into public view Monday, when Clinton ally David Brock quit the Priorities board amid accusations it was trying to boost its own fundraising by undercutting that of two pro-Clinton groups he runs.
That’s not a minor problem for Team Hillary. Brock, a Clinton ally and the founder of Media Matters for America, was hailed in the center-left press as the man who had built an empire over the course of the last decade with the sole aim of propelling a Clinton back into the Oval Office.
The Nation’s Michelle Goldberg profiled Brock in an extensive piece from last November that details the scope of the repentant former conservative’s influence over center-left media, legal, and fundraising apparatuses:
An avid Hillary Clinton supporter, Brock is already deeply engaged in the presidential contest. His group American Bridge captures almost every public utterance by prominent Republican politicians, using both DC-based researchers and a national network of professional trackers; it currently has people following all of the even remotely plausible contenders for the Republican nomination. Complementing that operation is Correct the Record, a subsidiary of American Bridge that Brock launched last year to push back against misinformation about Democratic presidential candidates, which so far has meant defending Clinton constantly and consistently.
Meanwhile, in the last year, Brock has expanded into law, ethics and journalism organizations, giving him multiple new fronts for political combat. In August, he took over the corruption watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, prompting fears that the progressive but nonpartisan group—which in the past has gone after members of both parties—will start ignoring the ethical lapses of Democrats. (Brock disputes this. He could, he says, imagine CREW pursuing Democrats under his watch, but he emphasizes that CREW’s history shows there’s simply more corruption to be found on the right.)
The same month he acquired CREW, Brock announced the formation of the American Democracy Legal Fund, which is intended to battle the GOP in the courts and has already filed fifteen complaints against Republicans and Republican-aligned groups. Also, his new journalistic grant-making organization, the American Independent Institute, will give out $320,000 this year to reporters investigating right-wing misdeeds.
But what the media has annoyingly decided to call “Hillaryland” was shocked this week when Brock abdicated his role as a member of the board on Priorities USA Action. His decision to resign was, according to a typically conspiratorial assertion from the Media Matters chief, driven in part because of the conflicting interests inside Clinton’s massive organization.
“In a resignation letter obtained by POLITICO, Brock, a close Clinton ally, accused Priorities officials of planting ‘an orchestrated political hit job’ against his own pro-Clinton groups, American Bridge and Media Matters,” Politico reported.
That’s right. Not only are pro-Clinton PACs engaged in the cannibalization of the Democratic Party’s likely nominee’s stable of donors, but the Clinton machine is already consumed by internal power struggles and bitter infighting.
The letter — and Brock’s resignation — offer a rare glimpse into a network of groups upon which Democrats are relying to keep the White House and stave off increasingly robust big-money efforts on the right. The public airing of dirty laundry comes as sources say Priorities is struggling to live up to the hopes of some Clinton allies, who had argued it should aim to raise as much as $500 million to eviscerate prospective Clinton rivals in the primary and general elections.
Apparently, there is no love lost in the Democratic donor community for the Brock. “He’s a cancer,” Obama fundraiser and Florida attorney John Morgan told New York Times reporters. “If you care about your party and our country, you just do what you are asked.”
Maybe Priorities is simply an isolated failure, and Brock has decided to cast about in order to blame others for that organization’s unmet expectations. Maybe there is a larger problem with Clinton’s campaign reflected in this PAC’s internal problems, and the Clinton machine is so unwieldy and redundant that it was doomed to descend into paralyzing competition sooner or later.
Reports have indicated that, with no serious challengers on the horizon, Clinton feels no pressure to jump into the 2016 race anytime soon. She may revisit that calculation if her organization continues to implode without a formal campaign organization at the helm.