Priorities USA Action
Priorities USA Action is a federally registered, single-candidate super PAC that raised funds to support advertising efforts for Hillary Clinton's presidential run in 2016. Priorities USA is the largest super PAC associated with the Democratic party in the country and was previously involved in the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 The PAC was founded in 2011 by former Obama staffers Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney for the original purpose of supporting the Obama re-election campaign by responding to funding from right-wing backers like American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. Priorities USA Action's mission statement from its website is as follows:
- "Priorities USA Action was founded in 2011 to educate and engage Americans to speak out and stand strong against the outdated views of the far right that threaten our democracy and undermine the middle class."
The founders, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney also issued a memo on April 29, 2011, through which they announced the formation of the PAC and stated:
- "[Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action] were formed to answer the hundreds of millions of dollars Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have dedicated to spending in the 2012 election...This is an effort to level the playing field and not allow right-wing activists to hijack the political system. We are simply trying to give an equal voice to the American middle-class and supporting policies that reflect America's core value of fairness."
- 1 Organizational Shakeups
- 2 Spending Activity
- 3 Advertisements
- 4 Notable Donations
- 5 Donors
- 6 Leadership
- 7 Contact Information
- 8 References
Co-Chair Jennifer Granholm Steps Down
Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan and co-chair of Priorities USA, stepped down from her position with the PAC in August of 2015 to join Correct the Record. The move gave Granholm greater freedom to communicate directly to Clinton's campaign because Correct the Record had recently registered as a political committee that can work directly with campaigns, but only on messaging and research. According to Politico, Granholm's transition also gives her an opportunity to join the Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee if Clinton were to secure the Democratic nomination. Politico also added that Correct the Record and Priorities USA formed a joint fundraising committee, a statement that "the two groups fill complementary roles in the pro-Clinton big-money world." The organizations had previously been at odds when David Brock, the founder of Correct the Record, also left his position on the Priorities USA board.
Board Member David Brock Resigns
On February 9, 2015, David Brock vacated his seat on the board of the Priorities USA Action PAC. Brock also headed two other liberal organizations supporting Clinton, American Bridge and Media Matters. Brock's departure was abrupt and he explained that he left due to attempts by Priorities to undermine his own organizations' fundraising efforts in "an orchestrated political hit job." The allegations came after an April 2015 New York Times article in which Brock defended the controversial commission-based billing practices of Mary Bonner, a fundraiser whose company and staff worked out of his headquarters.  David Brock wrote, in his resignation letter to the chairs of Priorities USA Action, “current and former Priorities officials were behind this specious and malicious attack on the integrity of these critical organizations.” Shortly after the news of Brock's resignation broke, the two parties stated that they were working together to remedy the situation and Brock raised the possibility of returning to Priorities' board.
According to OpenSecrets.org, as of June 14, 2016 independent expenditures, communications costs, and coordinated expenses for Priorities USA Action totaled $16,346,173. Roughly $5.8 million was disbursed in favor of Hillary Clinton, while the remaining $10.5 million was directed towards opposing Donald Trump.
First Ad Spending Surge
In April 2016, Priorities USA Action made $90 million worth of TV ad reservations for the period between June and election day in November.The ads were to be deployed in seven strategic battleground states that would serve as the core of the campaign. Ads were bought in advance to take advantage of lower prices in Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa, Virginia, and Colorado, as well as some other states considered to be less critical battlegrounds. According to Politico, this was a calculated move to frame the GOP candidate early, in some of the most important states, before the Republicans can begin their own targeted ad spending. A spokesman for the PAC told the New York Times, “Priorities will be ready to fight back against the billion-dollar onslaught Republicans are readying against Hillary Clinton.”
TV Ads Pivot to the General Election
In mid May of 2016, Priorities deployed a pair of 30-second television ads attacking Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee at the time, for comments he has made about women. The PAC spent about $6 million on its first ever TV ads of the cycle that aired for three weeks in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Virginia. According to the New York Times, the ads were originally going to air in June, however they came out early "to sow early doubts about Mr. Trump, particularly among female voters who will have a disproportionate effect on the fall election and with whom Mr. Trump has shown a particular weakness in polls."
One of the ads, titled "Speak", shows people wearing white t-shirts stamped with different images of Donald Trump's face, lip-synching various questionable remarks that Trump has made about women. The advertisement features controversial Trump statements such as, "you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" and "if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her". At the end of the ad, Priorities USA poses the question, "does Donald Trump really speak for you?"
"Speak" also features a bite of Trump saying "and you can tell them to go f--- themselves". The quote caused a stir on Twitter, where Trump attempted to contextualize it. On May 17, 2016, after seeing the ad, Trump tweeted at Hillary Clinton, saying "You can tell them to go BLANK themselves' - was about China, NOT WOMEN!" to which Priorities' chief strategist, Guy Cecil, responded with a tweet implying that Trump didn't "realize the ad is about his character & divisiveness, not just his overt sexism." Cecil later elaborated on his statements about the ad, adding "it is about the demeaning, nasty way that he treats people: Hispanics, Muslims, women, young people. This is a guy who said men should not change diapers because it feminizes them. There’s plenty of material to work with.”
"Respect", the other television ad in Priorities' first pair, begins with a video of Trump at a rally, stating "no one respects women more than Donald Trump, that I can tell you". The following clip shows Trump responding with "yes I would" when asked by Bill O'Reilly if he would block funding for Planned Parenthood. Next, Trump is featured in a phone interview, saying about Megyn Kelly, "there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever." In the final clip Trump is asked in an interview if there should be some sort of punishment for getting an abortion, to which he responds, "there has to be some form of punishment." The advertisement ends with the statement "Donald Trump is wrong for us". According to Politico, Trump took back his statement about punishing women for abortions and claimed that he was referencing to Kelly's nose.
Attack on Trump's Presidential Image
On April 21, 2016, Priorities released a web video, titled "Unpresidential", attacking the then Republican front-runner, Donald Trump. The ad presents a series of sound bites that feature Donald Trump making comments about the size of his hands and how he "could stand in the middle of fifth avenue and shoot somebody" and still retain his popularity.  The ad alternates between these controversial statements made on the campaign trail and clips of Trump proclaiming he is "the most presidential president, except for Honest Abe Lincoln". "Unpresidential" is part of an effort to turn toward the general election and according to Guy Cecil, Priorities chief strategist, the PAC learned from Republicans, adding "they waited month after month before taking on Trump. We’re obviously not going to make that mistake."
Planned Parenthood and Priorities Team-Up Against Trump and Cruz
In a digital ad that aired on April 6, 2016, Planned Parenthood Votes and Priority USA joined together to criticize Republican nominee hopefuls, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, on their views of women's choice. The ad, named "We Won't Go Back", targeted female Instagram and Facebook users in Ohio and Florida as part of a five figure ad campaign launched after some of the candidates' comments about women. The spot features interviews with both candidates in which they are responding to questions about repealing Roe V. Wade and punishments for women who have had abortions. Both of the candidates are shown responding that they believe Roe V. Wade is subject to change and that there should be punishments associated with abortions. The ad finishes with a bite of Donald Trump saying, "we'll go back to a position...where people will possibly go to illegal places." In a Priorities USA press release announcing the ad, Executive Director of Priorities, Anne Caprara, commented on the purpose of the ad, stating "“One of the scariest parts of Donald Trump’s insulting, demeaning, and dangerous attack on women is that Ted Cruz might actually be even worse for women.”
Fossil Fuel Industry
According to a research conducted by Greenpeace, Priorities USA Action has received $4 million from large donors associated with the fossil fuel industry as of April 21, 2016.
As of April 30, 2016, the PAC had received a total of $75,983,221 and spent a total of $29,764,521, according to OpenSecrets.org. Of the nearly $76 million in contributions received, more than $70 million were from individual donors contributing over $200 each.
Donations Over $2 Million from Individuals in 2016 Cycle
- George Soros: Soros Fund Management - $7,000,000
- James Simons: Euclidean Capital - $7,000,000
- Jay Robert Pritzker: Pritzker Group - $5,150,000
- Cheryl Saban: Philanthropist - $5,000,000
- Haim Saban: Saban Entertainment - $5,000,000
- Donald Sussman: Paloma Partners - $4,000,000
- Mary Kathryn Pritzker: Pritzker Family Foundation - $3,250,000
- Daniel Abraham: SDA Enterprises - $3,000,000
- Herb and Marion Sandler: Sandler Foundation - $2,500,000
- Women's Self Worth Foundation - $2,500,000
- David E Shaw: DE Shaw Research - $2,250,000
- Center for Middle East Peace - $2,000,000
- Fred Eychaner: Newsweb Corp - $2,000,000
- Renaissance Technologies - $2,000,000
- Laure Woods: Philanthropist - $1,975,000
Donations Over $1 Million from Organizations in 2016 Cycle
- LIUNA Building America - $4,000,000
- Fair Share Action - $2,000,000
- Operating Engineers Union - $2,000,000
- Plumbers/Pipefitters Union - $2,000,000
- Working for Working Americans - $1,500,000
- American Federation of Teachers - $1,000,000
Chief Strategist and Co-Chair - Guy Cecil: The former leader of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee who also played an important role in Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. According to the Washington Post, Cecil was brought on to the team in 2015 because of his close ties with both Hillary and Bill Clinton, as well as his relationships with other actors close to Hillary's 2016 campaign. Clinton's advisers found in Cecil "a close ally who has been embedded in the former secretary of state’s political world and will be able to anticipate the needs of the campaign."
Executive Director - Anne Caprara: Caprara became the Executive Director of Priorities USA Action in May of 2015 after former Director Buffy Wicks left the PAC. Caprara was formerly the vice president of campaigns at a group that supports female candidates for various offices called Emily's List.She also worked with Guy Cecil as the director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Mr. Cecil said of Ms. Caprara, “Anne Caprara has led some of the toughest campaigns and was critical to the success of so many Senate races across the country. I have complete confidence in her leadership.”
Co-Chair - Jim Messina: Former manager of Barack Obama's successful re-election campaign in 2012, who established strong connections with the Democratic party's donor base. Mr. Messina is also the chairman of a nonprofit activist group called Organizing for Action that raised $26 million in 2013 to help advance Barack Obamas agenda on various issues.
Treasurer and Board Member - Greg Speed: Speed is an experienced Democratic organizer and fundraiser who led the national progressive issue advocacy group, America Votes, from 2007 to 2016. He also worked as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's communications director during the 2004 election cycle.
Fundraiser - Jeremy Bird: Previously worked as an organizer for Barack Obama's 2012 campaign. Bird focused on gathering small donors and developing grass-roots support for Priorities USA Action.
601 13th Street NW, Suite 610N
Washington, DC 20005
- Nicholas Confessore, "Huge 'Super PAC' Is Moving Early to Back Clinton", New York Times, January 23, 2014.
- Rachel Finkel, "Priorities USA/ Priorities USA Action". FactCheck.org, March 3, 2014.
- Priorities USA Action, "About", organizational website, Accessed June 16, 2016.
- Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, "Memo from Priorities USA, Memo, April 29, 2011.
- Kenneth Vogel, "Granholm resigns from pro-Clinton super PAC", Politico, August 14, 2015.
- Kenneth Vogel, "Brock resigns from Hillary Clinton PAC", Politico, February 9, 2015.
- Open Secrets, "Priorities USA Action", organization website, Accessed June 14, 2016. Cite error: Invalid
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- Gabriel Debenedetti, "Clinton allies quietly shape general election map", Politico, April 17, 2016.
- Nicholas Confessore and Sarah Cohen, "Long Primary Carries Cost for Hillary Clinton: Time and Money", The New York Times, April 21, 2016.
- Amy Chozick and Nick Corasaniti, "Hillary Clinton 'Super PAC' to Air First Attack Ads Aimed at Donald Trump", The New York Times, May 17, 2016.
- Priorities USA, "Speak", YouTube, May 16, 2016.
- Nolan D. McCaskill, "Clinton allies unload on Trump in new ads", Politico, May 17, 2016.
- Priorities USA, "Repect", YouTube, May 16, 2016.
- Priorities USA, "Unpresidential", YouTube, April 21, 2016.
- Rebecca Sinderbrand, "The Daily Trail: GOP veepstakes begin as candidates start building lists, vetting prospects", The Washington Post, April 21, 2016.
- Priorities USA Action, "Planned Parenthood Votes & Priorities USA Launch New Digital Ad Hitting Ted Cruz & Donald Trump, PAC Press Release, April 6, 2016.
- Priorities USA, "We Won't Go Back", YouTube, April 6, 2016.
- Jesse Coleman, "Hillary Clinton's Connections to the Oil and Gas Industry", Greenpeace, April 21, 2016.
- Matea Gold, "Guy Cecil in talks to join pro-Clinton super PAC, reducing Jim Messina’s role", Washington Post, May 1, 2015.
- Maggie Haberman, "[‘Super PAC’ Backing Hillary Clinton Sees Staff Overhaul http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/05/20/super-pac-backing-hillary-clinton-sees-staff-overhaul/]", The New York Times, May 20, 2015.
- Nicholas Confessore, "[Huge 'Super PAC' Is Moving Early to Back Clinton http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/us/politics/biggest-liberal-super-pac-to-fund-possible-clinton-bid.html?_r=0]", New York Times, January 23, 2014.
- America Votes, "America Votes' Leadership", organizational website, Accessed June 15, 2016.