While providing a likely financial boost to Hillary Clinton, both developments also give her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh fodder to highlight her relationship with Wall Street and other special interests.
WASHINGTON — Two powerful organizations within the Democratic establishment announced steps Friday that have the potential to provide substantial financial firepower to presidential contender Hillary Clinton by drawing on the support of wealthy donors and corporate interests.
While providing a likely boost to Clinton, both developments also give her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, fresh fodder to highlight her relationship with Wall Street and other special interests at a time the two candidates are locked in an intense nomination fight.
Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC supporting Clinton, unleashed a $5 million infusion of spending on her behalf, upending plans to hold its fire until the general election. The move calls attention to growing concern within the party’s leadership that her campaign may be in trouble, and it illustrates how crucial several upcoming contests have become in Clinton’s battle with Sanders.
In addition, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said it had rolled back restrictions introduced by presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 that banned donations from federal lobbyists and political-action committees.
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Both actions offer the potential for financial benefit for Clinton. But both also could backfire.
Sanders has gained traction with his core argument that special interests have “rigged” the economy against the lower and middle classes.
Although Clinton has repeatedly denied she has been influenced by donations or speaking fees from Wall Street, the likely new flow of money to her campaign could add grist to Sanders’ case.
As if to prove the point, the Sanders campaign issued a news release Friday headlined: “Clinton Wall Street-Funded Super PAC Enters Democratic Primary Against Sanders.” Later in the day, Sanders’ campaign communications director, Michael Briggs, called the DNC decision “an unfortunate step backward. We support the restrictions that President Obama put in place at the DNC and we hope Secretary Clinton will join us in supporting the president.”
Sanders has received the vast majority of his funding through online, small-dollar donations. He has said regularly on the campaign trail that the average donation to his campaign is $27.
Although Clinton carried a financial advantage for most of the campaign, Sanders has outpaced her in fundraising since the year began.
During Thursday night’s debate in Milwaukee, Clinton attempted to distance herself from Priorities USA and the donations it has received from Wall Street players, noting that the group was started to support Obama’s re-election. “It’s not my PAC,” she said.
The early engagement by Priorities marks the first major infusion of super PAC money on Clinton’s behalf. The independent committee is spearheading a $4.5 million push to drive early turnout of African Americans, Latinos and women in March primary states.
The effort is in partnership with the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy organization, and EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women.
Separately, the super PAC is spending $500,000 to launch a radio ad campaign in South Carolina, casting Clinton as the candidate to build on Obama’s legacy.
The DNC’s decision, meanwhile, was made months ago but announced Friday. It allows the party to collect money from lobbyists and PACs in preparation for the general election, a move that would benefit Clinton if she is the nominee. Sanders has condemned the decision and called on the DNC to reverse it.
“The DNC’s recent change in guidelines will ensure that we continue to have the resources and infrastructure in place to best support whoever emerges as our eventual nominee,” Mark Paustenbach, deputy communications director for the DNC, said in an email.
The decision allows lobbyists and PACs to contribute to the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee between the Clinton campaign and the party that raised $26.7 million through the end of 2015.
Sanders has set up a similar joint fundraising committee, but Federal Election Commission records show it has not been active, raising just $1,000.