It’s no secret that Anita Dunn, the person controlling Joe Biden’s campaign for president, is a former top Barack Obama advisor who consulted with Harvey Weinstein over how the now-convicted sex offender was portrayed in the media.
Dunn worked on Obama’s campaign, served as White House communications director, and helped offer damage control advice free of charge to the former Hollywood mogul, BuzzFeedNews reported in October 2017.
A managing director at the public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker, Dunn founded the advertising and consulting firm that lobbies for a variety of corporate interests. She’s also a longtime Democratic strategist who has worked on several presidential campaigns. She and Biden grew close when she worked in the Obama White House, according to the New York Times.
In the long run, Dunn’s pro bono advice didn’t help Weinstein, whose predatory sexual behavior was exposed in a 2017 New York Times investigation that included on-the-record claims of sexual harassment. Weinstein was sentenced in March to 23 years in prison on a rape conviction.
Days ahead of the 2020 New Hampshire primary, Biden elevated Dunn, giving her final decision-making authority on campaign strategy and overall coordination on budget and personnel, New York Times reported.
In mid-April, Biden’s campaign signaled to donors that its main big-money partner for the general election would be Priorities USA. This move alarmed some of Biden’s backers, Washington Post reported. They are afraid that the campaign has given too much influence to a super political action committee that many donors associate with the party’s loss in 2016
The largest Democratic Party super PAC, Priorities was founded in 2011. It supported Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and was the main super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. It focused mainly on high-dollar donors.
Biden’s campaign described Priorities USA as a leader with a proven track record among the groups working to defeat Trump. This was seen as a sign to wealthy backers that they should give to Priorities over other groups.
Bill Knapp, a business partner of Dunn and longtime political consultant, will serve as a consultant for Priorities, another cause for donor concern. Knapp is doing the work for free, WP reports, and will not take a cut of advertising spending, according to the group. The firm he and Dunn own, SKDKnickerbocker, does not have a business relationship with Priorities.
A Biden campaign official who spoke anonymously, denied any conflict of interest, saying Dunn was not involved in Knapp joining Priorities and had not made decisions about the campaign choosing Priorities as a favored outside group.
Some prominent Biden supporters including Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said the decision had alienated outside PACs that had formed since 2016 and helped turn out voters for Democratic wins in subsequent elections. One of those is super PAC Unite the Country, which helped Biden through the primaries.
Clyburn wants the Biden campaign to accept help from more groups.
“It’s a horrible mistake to put all the eggs in one basket,” Clyburn told the Washington Post. “I believe very strongly that everybody has a role to play. No one person, no one entity can be all things to all people. It just can’t happen. One size does not fit all.”
Clyburn’s daughter is on the board of Unite The Country PAC and he is a prominent advocate of it.
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A super PAC can raise unlimited money from corporations, unions, and individuals but cannot contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates.
In 2010, Michelle Obama took on the junk food industry by providing voluntary guidelines to discourage foods with high levels of added sugar, salt, and fat from being marketed to children. Industry lobbyists complained, saying the guidelines would kill jobs. The campaign to defeat Michelle Obama’s initiative was managed by Dunn. The guidelines were delayed indefinitely, according to The Intercept.
“The elevation of Dunn highlights the thinness of Biden’s appeal as an Obama liberal,” Lee Fang wrote for The Intercept. “Biden has championed a pledge to reject lobbyist support, mirroring Obama’s original campaign pitch, but has embraced not only a range of special interests, but the very lobbyist spearheading his bid personifies the type of double-dealing in Washington, D.C., that helped eviscerate Obama’s progressive legacy.”
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