WASHINGTON -- Just as the tables have turned for the fundraising operation of President Barack Obama's campaign, so have things changed for the super PAC backing his bid. Priorities USA Action, run by former White House aide Bill Burton, raised $10.1 million in August, the most it has ever raised. The group also led the way among other super PACs for the first time, beating out the conservative groups that have dominated the chase for unlimited money.
Trailing Priorities for the first time are the top two conservative groups Restore Our Future, which is run by former aides to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove. Restore Our Future pulled in $7.1 million in August, and American Crossroads raised $9.4 million.
Priorities pulled in its big haul by getting mega-donors to chip in with large contributions. Hedge fund executive James Simons gave $2 million, Texas trial lawyer Steve Mostyn and Cox Enterprises owner Anne Cox Chambers each chipped in $1 million, lawyer Michael Snow gave $750,000, and LGBT activist Jon Stryker, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Stewart Bainum and Ann Wyckoff each added $500,000.
The group's founder, former White House aide Bill Burton, said that the reason Democrats are giving is because of "the proximity to election day, and [they are] trying to find the best way to be helpful."
"As Democrats really look at the race, the fundamentals are very, very tight," Burton said. "And even in this moment right now where Mitt Romney is proven to be a far more untalented candidate than we thought he was; even so the race is still very, very close. And so, I think Democrats recognize that and have been stepping up."
The pro-Obama super PAC spent much of the summer spending its cash to batter Romney's business record at the private equity firm Bain Capital. Ads featured workers who lost their jobs after Bain took over their employer and either restructured the company or let it go bankrupt.
While the group spent less than the exorbitant amounts put forward by its conservative counterparts, Burton believes that those ads not only had a big impact in defining Romney early on, but also have helped to bring out the big donors now.
"Over the spring and summer we ran a campaign to talk forcefully about Mitt Romney's business experience," Burton said. "It made a demonstrable difference in the race and I think that made an impact on whether folks wanting to invest in our efforts."
The same can't be said about the $20 million spent by Restore Our Future in August. The pro-Romney super PAC spent nearly all of its reserved cash on an advertising binge last month only to see the president's approval ratings and polls numbers go up. The group has only $6 million cash on hand now.
American Crossroads, however, is still flush with cash. The group spent only $6.9 million in August and had $32 million in the bank at the beginning of September. Since the beginning of September, the super PAC has started to spend its war chest, with a $16 million campaign of television and online advertisements against President Obama.
For its part, Priorities USA Action has spent or announced spending for September totalling $5.8 million. Many of those ads are likely to capitalize on the earned media disaster that is the leaked video of controversial comments made by Romney that 47 percent of Americans "believe that they are victims" and that he'll "never convince" them to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Super PACs are independent political committees that can raise unlimited sums from corporations, individuals and unions. They were created after two court decisions in 2010, most prominently the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, loosened campaign contribution and spending regulations for certain groups.