WASHINGTON -- In the wake of an electoral drubbing and fearing another one in two years, some deep-pocketed Democratic donors have decided to essentially go rogue with respect to the Obama White House.
In meetings this past week, some of the top financiers in the party advanced discussions about building a third-party apparatus to counter that on the Republican side of the aisle. The tone, said one person involved in the talks, was remarkably different from 2008, when the Obama campaign urged donors to funnel money strictly into their coffers. In 2010, similar requests are being made -- but they're not always heeded.
"Those days are other," said the individual. "It is a really big sea shift. People said we need an outside structure and we are going to do it. It is no longer 'Will you give us permission to do it, sir.'"
As is often the case in Democratic circles, little consensus was reached over the past week. If anything, the meeting of the Democracy Alliance -- a formal community of well-funded, progressive-minded individuals and activists -- ended with more lingering questions and promises for future discussions than concrete answers. Among the issues left unresolved were how a third-party group would be structured, what it would cost, and whether it was more effective to decry outside money helping Republicans or to simply match the Republican's outside money.
"There probably is some kind of need [for a third-party outlet]. The one thing about us though is when we lose we have a lot of meetings. We are not even getting started on the retreats or retrospectives," said James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist, during an unrelated breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "There is probably going to be one now, it is just the nature of what it is. Undoubtedly the Democrats will have symposiums and retreats."
As it stands now, there are several distinct outside government ventures being conceived. David Brock, the founder and CEO of Media Matters for America, has been in discussion with donors about funding an outlet to serve as a fact-check on conservatives as well as an attack dog on Republican candidates. The vast majority of the dozen-or-so Democratic operatives who spoke to the Huffington Post (almost all on condition of anonymity) applauded Brock for getting the ball rolling.
"He is someone who has been at the center of media strategy forever," said one operative. "Take a look at Media Matters' [nonprofit] c4 work this cycle and think about adding ads on top of that."
But several prospective participants in the venture told The Huffington Post that there was concern about Brock's stewardship.
"He can raise money," said one Democratic source, "but he has never worked in politics. He is an author of books."
"It is very different to fact-check than to actually create content," explained another activist.
Though not done as an alternative to Brock, other big-named operatives within the Democratic tent have also begun discussions about a similar third-party outlet. On Monday, longtime organizer Steve Rosenthal is set to host a meeting bringing together several of the figures responsible for the last major independent operation: America Coming Together [ACT]. Attendees, as the Los Angeles Times first reported will include Ellen Malcolm, the founder of Emily's List; Anna Burger, the vice chair of the Democracy Alliance; longtime Clinton adviser Harold Ickes; and labor leader and Obama ally Andy Stern.
"It is really just to get a group of people together to talk about whether or not we need something like this again," said one official involved in the meeting. "In 2004, we created a center of gravity and it covered various aspects and places of the party... to some extent Rove and Gillespie did that in 2010.
"Going into 2012, you can fully expect the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee to out-raise and be much more competitive with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. So if the party committee advantage [from 2010] is erased and the candidate advantage is erased and the third party groups stay the same as they did in 2010, it has the potential to be a bloodbath."
There are no dollar figures that either Brock or Rosenthal's groups have discussed in terms of what they are hoping to raise and spend in 2012. The $200 million that ACT and Media Fund (another independent-Democratic arm in 2004) raised two presidential cycles back is a pipe dream. But $50 million has been thrown out as a baseline number.
That such money would be available to help Democratic causes is in and of itself a remarkable reflection about the evolution of the party. In 2008, attempts to build an independent arm was essentially axed when the Obama campaign nixed donor giving to outside functions. This go-around, even the president's team seems to be of the mindset that such a tight restriction on funds is impractical or perhaps disadvantageous.
"One of the things the White House is recognizing as they think about the reelect is it is going to cost a lot of money, which is not to say the last one didn't," said one Democracy Alliance attendee. "It will be an expensive campaign though and they will need some help with it."