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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Priorities USA/Priorities USA Action

playersguide2014_135pxPolitical leaningsDemocratic/liberal

Spending target: Unknown

Priorities USA and its sister organization, Priorities USA Action, were formed in April 2011 by ex-White House staffers Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney as a Democratic counter to American Crossroads/Crossroads GPSBurton was President Obama’s deputy press secretary, and Sweeney was a senior adviser to Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

In January 2014, Priorities USA Action, which spent more money than any other liberal super PAC in the 2012 presidential election, announced that it will support Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, and Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan governor, were named the new co-chairs of the PAC. Messina is also chairman of Organizing for Action, a nonprofit political group formed after the 2012 election to advocate for Obama’s policies. Granholm had already expressed support in the spring of 2013 for the Ready for Hillary PAC, which was formed last year in anticipation of the 2016 election.  

Buffy Wicks, former national director of Operation Vote for the Obama for America campaign, is the executive director of Priorities USA Action. Wicks also served as the deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement for President Obama. Jonathan Mantz, who served as national finance director for Clinton’s campaign in 2008, will serve as a senior fundraising adviser.

As a super PAC, Priorities USA Action can raise unlimited amounts of money but must disclose the source of its donations. Priorities USA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that can raise unlimited amounts of money and does not have to disclose its donors.

Priorities USA Action has not spent any money in independent expenditures for the 2014 election cycle, and news reports said a spokesman for the group said it wouldn’t be involved in the elections. That led to calls from Democratic leaders for the PAC to participate in the midterms. But Wicks discredited the idea that the PAC was “sitting out” the election in a memo to donors, writing: “Priorities USA Action, which was founded to preserve, protect and defend the Obama Presidency, was not born with an eye toward congressional races. However, the upcoming midterm elections are so critical for our future and the ability of the next President to govern that we must engage.” She added that Priorities USA Action is working closely with the House Majority and Senate Majority PACs and has donated $250,000 to each.

In 2012, the PAC spent more than $65 million on attack ads against Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It ranked fourth in spending among super PACs for the 2012 election. Our articles about the PAC’s ads in 2012 included: “Dueling Economic Ads,” “What Priorities USA Action Doesn’t Tell You,” ” ‘Big Oil’ Backing Romney?” and “Is Romney to Blame for Cancer Death?

According to the New York Times, “[d]onors and others involved with Priorities said that [in 2016] they would look to far surpass” the money spent on attack ads against Romney in 2012.

Overall, Priorities USA Action raised more than $79 million and spent more than $75 million for the 2012 election. Its largest donations in 2012 were $5 million from James Simons, the founder of the private hedge fund investment company Renaissance Technologies; $4.5 million from Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner, founder of the Newsweb Corp; $3 million from Steve Mostyn, founder of Mostyn Law Firm; and $3 million from film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks.

These donors have a history of ties to Democratic candidates. Katzenberg was also a major fundraiser for Obama’s reelection. He raised more than $500,000, according to the Obama campaign. Eychaner has given more than $25 million to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Steve and Amber Mostyn are also founding members of Ready for Hillary’s national finance council.

Priorities USA raised $8.4 million in 2012. It made no independent expenditures but gave money to other politically active groups. The nonprofit donated $2.25 million in 2012 to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, $650,000 to the environmental group League of Conservation Voters and $500,000 to the immigration group America’s Voice. It also gave $750,000 to a nonprofit called the Unity Fund, which is led by an Obama bundler and Democratic operatives.