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New liberal 'super PAC' focusing on smaller donations

March 21, 2012|By Melanie Mason
  • President Obama at the White House in 2010.
President Obama at the White House in 2010. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — Republican billionaires have taken to “super PACs” with gusto this election cycle, but when it comes to moneyed Democrats, the support for such outside groups has been tepid.

That hasn’t deterred a new liberal super PAC from entering the fray — with a fundraising approach it claims is less reliant on a handful of mega-donors.

PAC+, which launched Wednesday morning, will aim to use paid media and on-the-ground organization to turn out Latino and African American voters in six states in hopes to boost Democrats, and by extension, President Obama. Steve Phillips, a San Francisco-based attorney and Democratic activist, serves as the group’s chair.

The group, like other super PACs, can take unlimited donations from individuals, unions and corporations. But PAC+ is recommending its donors take a smaller-scale approach and pledge $20 per month to the group. Phillips, in an interview, said the targeted donor base is households making $100,000 or more, and in particular African American, Latino, Asian and white donors who “benefited from or were inspired by the civil rights movement.”

While Phillips said the group wouldn't turn down a seven-figure check, he said chasing after Sheldon Adelson-type donors is not an "ideal sustainable model."

"The bigger problem for the left is that the left really only has ideological major donors,” Philliips said. “On the right, the donors have a financial incentive. What people get back in favorable tax policy far exceeds what they put in."

In 2008, Phillips’ advocacy group, PowerPAC.org, raised more than $10 million and paid for television ads and voter outreach on behalf of President Obama through the Democratic primaries and the general election.

This cycle, Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama group run by former White House aides, is the primary outside group pushing for the president’s reelection. The group has raised $6.5 million for the election cycle so far; nearly half of that came from just two mega-donors, Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, who gave $2 million, and comedian Bill Maher, who gave $1 million.

Phillips said he wishes the group well, but added they face an “uphill battle.”

“We went that route in 2008 and we consciously have shifted away from that model," Phillips said.

PAC+ says it will focus its efforts on states crucial to Obama’s electoral prospects, including Ohio, New Mexico and Arizona. Others, such as Texas and Georgia, are likely out of reach for Obama this fall. But Phillips said demographic changes in those states could make for better Democratic prospects in the future.

"This is the beginning of what we're seeing as a decadelong effort to transform politics in this country," said Phillips.

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New pro-Obama 'super PAC' focusing on smaller donations

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