Here’s my latest column from the print version of Variety — on the entertainment industry’s role in the expected avalanche of outside spending in the 2012 elections.
When two former Obama White House aides recently announced that they were forming an independent group to raise tens of millions for Democrats in 2012, one name they put forth as offering seed money was Jeffrey Katzenberg.
It was certainly no surprise that a Hollywood figure, particularly one who has been such a prolific donor, would appear on the list of those backing the org, called Priorities USA. But his involvement, along with other outside groups, could very well change are the dynamics of political fund-raising in show biz in the next cycle.
High-profile donors, a sizable chunk of whom are expected to quickly max out on the $5,000 they can give to President Obama’s reelection committee, will have another option where they can give unlimited sums and, if they so choose, do it anonymously.
That could put a new degree of importance on the very wealthy donors, who can afford to write seven-figure checks, as opposed to the “bundlers,” or those fund-raisers tasked with tapping their network of contacts to round up donors to write four- and five- figure sums for individual candidates.
David Levinthal, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, calls it “the beginnings of a political arms race.”
While independent groups have been around for some time, what is new is the campaign easing of restrictions on how and when they can spend their money in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year — along with a maneuver in which donors can contribute without having their identities disclosed.
Outside groups like Priorities cannot coordinate with with official campaigns, but they have some leeway in running their own ad spots designed to boost Obama and other candidates, or to attack their opponents.
Priorities, set up by former White House officials Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, has established two groups under the tax code, both of which will be allowed to collect unlimited contributions. One, called Priorities USA Action, is set up under section 527 of the tax code, but it will be required to regularly disclose the identities of donors. The other, called simply, Priorities USA, is registered as a 501(c)(4), which allows them to keep the identies of donors secret.