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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Priorities USA Action

Political leanings: Democratic/liberal

Spending target: At least $50 million 

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC, was formed in 2011 by ex-White House staffers Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney to help reelect President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2016, it supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, spending more money than any other super PAC.

Priorities USA Action states that its mission is to help build “a powerful progressive movement that informs, energizes, and empowers average Americans to fight and win for their priorities in 2017, 2018, and 2020.”

Guy Cecil, who was political director of Clinton’s 2008 campaign, serves as chairman of the super PAC. Patrick McHugh, who was research director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, serves as the PAC’s executive director.

As a super PAC, Priorities USA Action can raise unlimited amounts of money, but is required to disclose its donors. Priorities USA, also formed in 2011, is the super PAC’s affiliated 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which could raise unlimited amounts of money without disclosing its donors. The group also has a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Priorities USA Foundation.

Priorities USA Action has merged with another nonprofit group called Every Citizen Counts, a voting rights organization, according to Cecil. The Washington Post said Priorities USA Action has a “broad portfolio, assuming tasks that traditionally are in the purview of the national party.”

Priorities USA Action largely sat out the 2014 midterm elections. It donated $1.35 million to left-leaning PACs, but spent nothing on independent expenditures during the cycle. However, the group has added staff in preparation for involvement in 2018 and already has participated in special House elections in Montana and Georgia. In November 2017, it said that it would spend at least $50 million in the 2018 cycle on digital ads alone.

During the 2016 cycle, the group spent a total of $133,407,972 in independent expenditures, part of the super PAC’s $190 million in total spending. The vast majority of that — roughly $132 million — was spent on the presidential race, though smaller amounts were spent on congressional races, such as the $411,406 spent to help unseat Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Some major donors to Priorities USA Action during the 2016 cycle included Saban Entertainment founder Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, who combined to donate $12.23 million. Others included Paloma Partners founder Donald Sussman ($20 million), billionaire philanthropist George Soros ($9.5 million), film director Steven Spielberg ($1 million), and film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg ($1 million).

The super PAC also received large sums from other political action committees, including $5 million from Working for Working Americans and $3.725 million from the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Both PACs represent labor unions.

For the 2018 campaign cycle, the super PAC had raised $18.2 million and spent $11.8 million, as of the end of July, according to the Federal Election Commission. Its major donors again this cycle include Sussman, who donated $6 million, and Soros, who donated $5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Nearly all of that money has gone to support Democrats or oppose Republicans in key Senate races, including Florida, Missouri, Indiana, Arizona and North Dakota. All five races are considered “toss ups” by the Cook Political Report.