Why are President Obama's super-PACs proving to be so underwhelming in their fundraising efforts? Obama's problem may be that he has surrounded himself with losers.
Former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton founded the Obama-approved super-PAC Priorities USA Action last April, and his track record to date has been miserable. According to Federal Election Commission, or FEC, data, Burton and company raised just $4.4 million in 2011 -- a paltry figure compared with counterpart American Crossroads' $18.4 million haul for the same year. This year isn't going so well for Burton, either. Crossroads raised $9.7 million through the first quarter of 2012; Priorities took in just $4.6 million.
And, Bill Burton is the least of the president's problems. Consider David Brock, founder and CEO of Media Matters and founder of the American Bridge 21st Century liberal super-PAC. Brock has been embroiled in controversy.
In a March 2011 edition of New York Magazine, Democratic operatives close to Brock went on record saying he "wants to be a kingmaker in Democratic politics" and wants "American Bridge to be the liberal analogue to American Crossroads -- which would make [him] the liberal analogue to Karl Rove."
The Obama campaign seems to think this is a plausible comparison. According to FEC disclosures, Burton's and Brock's outfits established a joint fundraising committee this April, after months of private talks. There's enough fundraising desperation in the Obama camp to override any concerns they might have had about Brock's scandal-plagued past.
Yes, Burton gained access to Brock's considerable fundraising panache, likely attracting legions of Clinton family supporters -- but at what cost? It probably won't help outreach to religious leaders. The super-PAC embraced by the Obama campaign is now formally tied to Brock, whose Media Matters employed and defended a blogger whose anti-Semitic diatribes against American Jews who support Israel offended even such liberals as Alan Dershowitz. Media Matters' mission statement on file with the IRS specifically states it was founded to thwart "Christian-influenced ideology."
If Burton and Obama campaign officials read the papers, they know about Brock's volatile behavior. But his personality is the least of their problems. Some prominent progressives decry Brock's tactics as well. Even MSNBC's bomb-throwing Ed Schultz has problems with Media Matters' "Stop Rush" campaign, an online effort to publicly shame companies that advertise on talk radio legend Rush Limbaugh's show. And Schultz is right. Take-no-prisoners politics -- the kind that inspired a Media Matters memo calling for the hiring of private investigators to dig into the lives of Fox News personalities -- incurs personal and societal costs not worth bearing.
Despite his liabilities, Brock continues to demonstrate his skill at extracting money from the 1 percenters. Last month, he helped Burton's Priorities land a $1 million check from Franklin Haney, a former Clinton supporter who was indicted (and acquitted) on 42 counts of election law violations in 1998.
President Obama has already invited comparisons to Richard Nixon with his unilateral executive action on immigration, his official participation in concealing details about the Fast and Furious scandal and his use of "the powers of government to silence [conservative] groups," as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put it. Now is not the time for the president's campaign to feed such comparisons to Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President by adopting David Brock as its "Bebe" Rebozo.
Desperate or not, President Obama needs to ask himself if the joint fundraising committee with Brock is the best hill on which to make his last stand. The sensible answer is that the president should call for dissolution of the joint committee and renounce any association with Brock.
Curt Levey is a constitutional law attorney and the president of the Committee for Justice in Washington.