Global Insight

May 9, 2012 6:19 pm

Republican super-Pacs outgun Obama

Soros donation to Democrats angers some activists

Where is George Soros when you need him?

Many Democratic hardheads have asked that question over the past 12 months as they have watched new pro-Republican groups filling their campaign chests with tens of millions of dollars.

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The various conservative super-political action committees – so-called because they face no limits on donations – and their related non-profit arms have raised more than $200m between them so far for the 2012 elections, and the big ones are just getting started.

To put that figure into perspective, John McCain, the Republican 2008 presidential candidate, who was hamstrung by financing rules from a previous era, raised about $368m for his entire campaign.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican challenger is budgeting on having double that. The super-Pac money amounts to a hefty bonus on top of the official campaign.

Barack Obama is no slouch when it comes to pulling in money. He has taken entire days off from the business of running the White House to do fundraisers around the country.

But the crushing money advantage he enjoyed in 2008 will be absent this time. For a president facing a perilously close re-election, that is an unwelcome prospect.

Granted, some of the Republican super-Pac money has been spent trashing each other during the nomination fight. Some will also go on congressional races.

But much will be aimed at Mr Obama and the Democrats have little in super-Pac ammunition to return fire. The largest pro-Obama super-Pac had just $9m in the bank last month.

Enter George Soros, or not, as the case may be.

All manner of Democratic super-Pacs and candidates have beaten a path over the past year to the door of the billionaire financier, who combines extraordinary investing skills with generous support for liberal causes.

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Republicans have never forgotten, nor forgiven, Mr Soros for the $25m he gave to liberal groups in 2004 as part of efforts to vote out George W. Bush.

Democrats have not forgotten either. Now that such donations are legal, an issue clarified by court decisions in the US since 2010, they would like Mr Soros to be as generous again.

In his public statements Mr Soros had been ambivalent about Mr Obama’s re-election, suggesting at one point that he was not much different from Mr Romney.

This week, he re-nailed his colours to the mast, confirming that he had given $1m to a pro-Democratic super-Pac, American Bridge 21st Century, which tracks the statements of Republican candidates.

But instead of rejoicing, Mr Soros’ return has provoked a mixture of exasperation and anger among Democrats.

Mr Soros chose American Bridge and another progressive group, America Votes, because they are not like other super-Pacs whose modus operandi is carpet bombing their opponents with attack ads. Instead, they are self-styled grassroots organisation “holding conservatives accountable” for their policies.

His donation coincides with another grassroots fundraising push by the Democracy Alliance, which directs members’ funds to other left-leaning bodies. It is at this point that the hardened Democratic campaigners throw their hands up in the air, pointing out that the Obama campaign has already invested heavily in building the largest get-out-the-vote infrastructure of any presidential election.

They are confident about their ground game but worry that they will be decimated in the air war that Republican super-Pacs have the funds to deploy, at short notice, in swing states and seats.

These Democrats have not failed just to convince Mr Soros of this. Most traditional big Democratic donors have also thumbed their noses at super-Pacs, either because they are complacent about an Obama victory, or because they object to them in principle.

Mr Obama had the grassroots in 2008. But he also buried Mr McCain under a wave of negative attack ads.

If such lofty notions about super-Pacs last until election day among Mr Soros and the like, these Democrats say, the Republicans will be well positioned to turn the tables in November.

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