Outside fundraising groups supporting President Barack Obama and Democratic candidates raised a combined $10 million during the first six months of 2011, providing the first glimpse into how Democrats intend to compete with outside Republican groups planning to pour millions of dollars into next year's elections.
Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, independent groups founded by former Obama White House aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, said Friday they raised more than $5 million while the research arm for the outside Democratic groups, American Bridge, collected $3.07 million. Political action committees supporting Democrats in the House and Senate raised more than $2 million.
The fundraising totals were dwarfed by Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which collected a combined $86 million from April through June, as many top donors focused on Obama's initial fundraising quarter.
Supporters of both parties have created outside groups designed to influence the 2012 elections, taking advantage of a landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed these groups to spend lavishly on campaigns with few restrictions.
Republicans aggressively deployed the outside groups after the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court eased restrictions on corporate spending in political campaigns. American Crossroads and its not-for-profit arm Crossroads GPS, which have ties to Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's top political adviser, spent $38.5 million to defeat Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, raising money from large donors, many of whom went undisclosed.
Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said it currently had "about a 2-to-1" advantage in fundraising over the Democratic groups combined. Crossroads has said it will spend $20 million this summer on a series of ads critical of Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate. Through mid-June, American Crossroads had raised about $3.8 million and had nearly $3.3 million in the bank. It was expected to disclose its full fundraising totals for the first six months within the next few days.
Obama has criticized the Supreme Court ruling and the kind of unregulated, undisclosed spending it allowed, but Democrats moved to create the groups after the party lost control of the House and relinquished several Senate seats.
Most of the Democratic groups are considered "Super PACs," which allows them to accept unlimited donations, but they must disclose their contributors to the government.
Priorities USA and American Bridge both operate two funds: one that can work full time to influence elections and must disclose all its donors, and other not-for-profit arms, which allows them to raise unlimited amounts of money and keep their donors secret while limiting the type of political activities they can conduct. Priorities' nonprofit brought in at least $2 million, while American Bridge's foundation collected about $1.5 million.
Majority PAC, which supports Senate candidates, raised $1.25 million, while its House counterpart, House Majority PAC, raised $985,000.
"The overwhelming support we have received in getting each of our groups off the ground shows that Democrats won't be sitting on the sidelines in 2012," the Democratic groups said in a joint statement.
Priorities USA has set a goal of raising $100 million for the 2012 campaign. Prominent Democrats are expected to support Priorities, including Ellen Malcolm, the founder of EMILY'S List which supports female candidates who back abortion rights, the Service Employees International Union and Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg.
American Bridge filed its report with the Federal Election Commission on Friday, while its Democratic counterparts were expected to file by Sunday. Among American Bridge's biggest donors: $200,000 from Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Insurance Companies; $150,000 from Stephen Bing, a film producer and real estate developer who has raised money for President Bill Clinton; and $100,000 from West Coast businessman Stephen Silberstein. Labor unions AFSCME and the SEIU both contributed $100,000 and writer-director J.J. Abrams donated money.
Nearly all the donations _ more than half of big checks greater than $10,000 _ streamed in from liberal-leaning congressional districts: the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City and Portland, Ore.
Associated Press writer Jack Gillum contributed to this report.
Ken Thomas can be reached at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas