The largest liberal super PAC in the country has begun raising money to elect Hillary Rodham Clinton president, formally aligning itself with Clinton’s undeclared presidential ambitions more than two years before the election.
The group, Priorities USA Action, which played a pivotal role in helping re-elect President Obama, also named new directors to steer the organization, appointments that will cement the group’s pro-Clinton tilt and thrust veterans of Obama’s political and fundraising operation into the center of the post-Obama Democratic Party.
The move marks perhaps the earliest start to big-dollar fundraising in support of a nonincumbent presidential candidate, providing a fundraising portal for wealthy Clinton supporters eager to boost her White House prospects — and to the legions of others eager to ingratiate themselves with Clinton and her inner circle.
Six years after overwhelming Clinton with a superior grasp of small-donor fundraising and grass-roots organizing, the Obama world is conferring on her some of the fruits of Obama’s successful re-election: data analytics expertise, new voter-targeting techniques and experienced hands knitting it all together.
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Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager in 2012, who has forged close ties with many Democratic donors, will be co-chairman of the revamped super PAC and an affiliated nonprofit, along with former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is among the most persistent voices calling for Clinton to enter the 2016 race.
Unlike other pro-Clinton organizations, which have focused on recruiting small donors or building lists of grass-roots supporters, Priorities is seeking six- and seven-figure checks to power major ad campaigns in support of Clinton, including, if necessary, responses to attacks by Republicans and conservatives in advance of a formal campaign declaration.
Like all super PACs, the group would be barred from coordinating spending and strategy with Clinton if she entered the race.
“I think the numbers clearly show that she’s the strongest presidential candidate on the Democratic side,” Messina said. “And Priorities is going to be there for her if she decides to run.”
Messina is the most high-profile member of Obama’s inner circle to openly back Clinton for president, a move that can only fuel perceptions that Clinton’s potential candidacy has the tacit endorsement of Obama.
Donors and others involved with Priorities said they would look to surpass the $67 million that Priorities spent on attack ads against Republican Mitt Romney during the 2012 election. Those ads — including the so-called coffin ad featuring workers laid off from a plant acquired by Bain Capital, Romney’s former firm — helped define Romney early in the campaign, a blueprint the group hopes to use on Clinton’s prospective opponents.
Messina’s role also adds to the Priorities USA team a top-tier rainmaker, with close relationships to the donors and bundlers who powered Obama’s billion-dollar campaign effort.
Steve Mostyn, a prominent Houston trial lawyer who, with his wife, Amber, was among the earliest major donors to Priorities in 2012, said he believed that liberal donors had largely overcome their reluctance to give to super PACs and would come out in force should Clinton enter the race.
“Amber and I are both excited about the prospects of being part of the super PAC for Hillary if she decides to run,” Mostyn said. “The first time was kind of a leap of faith for us; it was back when no one was giving Priorities money. I think it’ll be easier with Hillary.”
Priorities’ long-awaited relaunch has drawn intense scrutiny in recent months, with media reports detailing the group’s courtship of Messina and of Clinton luminaries such as John Podesta, a White House chief of staff under President Clinton who ultimately took a position in the Obama administration.
Messina declined to say whether he had discussed his new role with Obama or with Vice President Joe Biden, another potential 2016 candidate, and it remains unclear whether the group would intervene in a primary campaign should Hillary Clinton face other contenders for the Democratic nomination.
Messina will join other Obama and Clinton veterans at the group, including Buffy Wicks, a former Obama field director now serving as Priorities’ executive director; Jonathan Mantz, finance director for Hillary Clinton’s last presidential campaign; and Peter Kauffmann, who was a press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s first U.S. Senate campaign.