Paul Harstad: The Pollster Elite

Obama’s pollster doubles as Obama’s moneyman, member of secretive Democracy Alliance

Paul Harstad /


Barack Obama’s leading polling expert is also a member of an elite, invitation-only collection of liberal moneymen.

Paul Harstad is a member of the Democracy Alliance, according to documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The Alliance steers tens of millions of dollars to campaigns and groups backed by the White House, including the president’s Super PAC, Priorities USA, as well as to liberal nonprofits such as the Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America.

Harstad is the closest direct tie between the administration and the secretive group, which does not disclose its members or donors. He has worked for Obama since the future president’s Illinois Senate primary in 2002. Obama’s meteoric rise to the highest office in the land meant a generous payday for Harstad.

The pollster pocketed $94,000 in 2007 for his work in Iowa and other battlegrounds—nearly 90 percent of Obama’s total spending on pollsters that year. He has since become a mainstay in the Oval Office. Obama meets with Harstad and a group of "core" advisers every Wednesday to "discuss [the] latest polling and how to use the results to advance their ambitious agenda," according to reports. Harstad’s advice played a large role in shaping Obama’s FY2010 budget. He was the chief public apologist of Obama’s big-spending efforts at the start of his term.

"Evidence of clear erosion [in public and political support] is minimal," Harstad told the Des Moines Register at the time. "But that [Obama’s] approval ratings are coming down to normal and more partisan is not surprising given the challenges he’s facing."

Obama has failed to pass a budget for three years. His approval ratings are below 50 percent, a worrisome fact for Democrats and the liberal multimillionaires and billionaires who back the party.

After a personal visit from Vice President Joe Biden in 2011, the Alliance began steering its millions to Obama’s Super PAC and campaign.

"Their guy is in trouble, so it’s taken on a circle the wagons approach," campaign finance expert John Samples said. "The administration is making the case to donors that it’s ‘now or never,’ and they obviously responded."

A former Democracy Alliance member confirmed this attitude to the Washington Free Beacon.

"I think it’s a necessary step. If you don’t have the foundation of the presidency and the Senate, then these other groups are going to fall," trial lawyer Lisa Blue Baron said.

Other Alliance members, including founding insurance billionaire Peter Lewis, pulled out of the group in protest.

It is unclear if Harstad has maintained his ties to the Alliance, as he did not return requests for comment. The Alliance prohibits members from speaking to the press in order to maintain secrecy.

Harstad has maintained his ties to the Obama campaign. He has visited the White House five times since Obama took office and later donated $5,000 to the campaign, exceeding his 2008 contribution to Obama. That is the largest contribution he has made to a candidate. Overall, he has contributed $45,425 to Democratic candidates since 2007, which is a pittance compared with the giving of most Alliance members.

Harstad has contributed to the party in other ways. He has made it a habit to only take on the tightest and toughest of races. He has focused his efforts on swing states, including Missouri and Colorado, where the Alliance model was perfected.

Harstad has been effective, contributing to Democratic victories in 42 of 47 statewide races, including those of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and former Colorado Senator and current Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar (D., Colo.). Salazar won his seat thanks to the efforts of the Colorado Democracy Alliance, which pumped millions into liberal organizations that touted liberal talking points in state media and organized grassroots efforts for Democratic voters.

The Alliance did not return emails for comment.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is

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