With Friends Like These: Sean Sweeney and Mitch Stewart

Lest there be any doubt that Hillary Clinton would represent a third Obama term, one need only look at the people she has surrounded herself with in this campaign.  Often, a candidate defeated in a previous election will use talent from the campaign that defeated them.  After the 2008 campaign, there was residual animosity among the operatives for the two camps.

One such person is Sean Sweeney who has joined the Clinton campaign in an indirect way.  A member of the Messina Group, its founder was Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.  Bill Burton, a co-founder of the Super Pac Priorities USA, noted that in 2012, Obama’s campaign had a strong voter canvassing effort and that spending (although less than Republican groups) was still strong and negated some of the Republican message.  He warned that the 2016 Democratic candidate would have to reach out beyond Hispanics and Blacks, and the likely target had to be working women.

Sean Sweeney is the link between the Obama camp and the Clinton camp.  He worked on Chuck Schumer’s campaign and Clinton’s senatorial campaign and later became one of her legislative aids.  Sweeney has deep ties to the Clintons, Obama, and the Clinton Foundation.  Although he had these ties, he ended up as Rahm Emanuel’s Chief of staff.

Priorities USA is gearing up as a major player/outside spender for Hillary Clinton.  Originally formed by Sweeney and Burton and others in the post-Citizens United campaign finance world, it entered the fray in 2012 in support of Obama, but has been transitioning into a pro-Hillary organization.  To understand how close Priorities USA and the Clinton campaign is, not only is Sweeney now a liason between the campaign and the PAC, but long-time Clinton supporter Guy Cecil is now the Chairman of Priorities USA.  This change was deemed necessary because prior to Clinton’s announcement she would run, fundraising at Priorities USA had been lagging.

In the wake of that weak fundraising, some complained that Sweeney let the PAC lay somewhat dormant after the 2012 election.  That is not to say that Sweeney did not receive some handsome paychecks along the way.  Although it may not seem like much, he was paid $22,000 a month to do nothing but allow his name on filing papers.  Most interesting, Priorities USA made a $222,000 payment to a Democratic strategy and media consultancy group called Independence Avenue, LLC.  There are only two people listed on that organization’s filing papers- Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney.

Independence Avenue, LLC was paid another $150,000 for media strategy in the 2014 midterm elections.  To understand how this works and its relationship to the Clinton team, Jim Messina- Sweeney’s former employer- possibly with the help of Independence Avenue, LLC established American Bridge 21st Century.  This group is a Hillary Clinton damage control rapid response team.  They are likely the group that also does opposition research and calls the shots when it comes to the inevitable Clinton scandal.

The web works like this:  Priorities USA funds Independence Avenue who then helps coordinate responses to attacks on Clinton either directly or through the Clinton website’s “The Briefing” page, which was established by John Podesta.  Sweeney’s group is the conduit for misinformation and defining the Republican opposition while also supporting Clinton.  In order to target those messages, they likely coordinate with another Democratic group- Organizing For America (OFA) which is run by Mitch Stewart, another Obama operative who previously served as his battleground states director.  While the organizing director of OFA, Stewart was receiving $20,000 a month from Ready for Hillary.

The goal of the OFA, basically an organizing group, is to extend the Obama electoral map for Clinton.  Realizing that she may not be able to hold together the coalitions that put Obama back in office, they aim to expand the Clinton base by bringing in white working women.  In short, OFA will be engaging in identity politics on steroids in 2016.  They are also a key collector of voter metadata and will likely use that information to help Clinton target voters and hone her message.

The people surrounding Clinton are old cronies of her’s and Obama’s.  For now, the animosity is laid aside between the two camps, but if the GOP can throw a monkey wrench into the operation somehow, it would likely unravel and be ugly.  Many of these people are staunch loyalists to Obama and many worked on and formulated the Obama strategy in 2008 against Hillary Clinton.  Mitch Stewart and especially Sean Sweeney are two such people.  How this plays out over the long haul remains to be seen.


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