Kelly Craighead: Madame President

Kelly Craighead /
September 28, 2012

Years after Kelly Craighead spent the night camping out with the Clintons, she found herself rubbing elbows with the Democratic Party’s wealthiest patrons at Washington D.C.’s ritzy Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Craighead is the president and managing director of the exclusive, invitation-only Democracy Alliance, a clearinghouse that connects liberal billionaires to a select group of endorsed organizations, such as the Center for American Progress and the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA, without threat of disclosure.

"This helps the donors dodge disclosure laws, and grants them anonymity," campaign finance expert John Samples told the Washington Free Beacon in July. "By giving to a group like Democracy Alliance, it reduces your risk in an election year if your company may have business with the government and doesn’t want to lose that under a potential Romney administration."

Craighead has no need for anonymity. She served as a top aide to former First Lady Hillary Clinton and later worked for her U.S. Senate campaign. The Secretary of State even presided over her wedding to Erick Mullen, a top aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.).

Craighead has extensive ties to the Obama campaign. She helped spearhead the campaign to bring Democratic Super PACs into the Alliance just months after she attended a luncheon at the home of Julianna Smoot, a deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama, in 2010.

Several Obama surrogates have since lobbied on behalf of the Obama campaign at Alliance fundraisers, including Vice President Joe Biden. Bill Clinton appeared before the Alliance on Thursday to raise money for the campaign, and drew a $1 million pledge from hedge fund billionaire George Soros.

Craighead is no stranger to shadowy political groups or fundraising practices. She found herself entangled in a federal investigation during Hillary Clinton’s 2000 run for a Senate seat in New York. Federal authorities later indicted Clinton financial director David Rosen for lying about the campaign’s fundraising costs.

Rosen allegedly doctored records to hide $800,000 in costs in connection to a $1.2 million celebrity gala—a move designed to free up cash for the campaign. A prosecution witness testified that Craighead knew Rosen manipulated the costs, and did nothing to correct the cover-up.

Craighead, who was on the witness list, never took the stand. A jury acquitted Rosen, who moved to Illinois where he managed the campaign finances of Obama ally Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn before joining Eudora Global, a consulting firm founded by Vice President Biden’s son R. Hunter Biden.

Calls to Rosen’s office were not returned.

The investigation did not damage Craighead’s rise among elite liberal fundraisers, however. In 2004 she helped establish a sound fundraising base for Media Matters. She maintained her support for the group once she joined the Alliance, which pumped $6 million into Media Matters in its first two years.

She now plays an even larger role in the collection of wealthy liberals. As managing director, she helps direct each Alliance member’s $200,000 annual membership commitment to a number of progressive groups and Democratic Super PACs.

The move to fund Super PACs caused a rupture in the group. The Alliance was founded to build up grassroots progressive groups and campaign infrastructure independent of the Democratic Party.

The group announced a new direction in February when it decided to work more closely with Democratic Super PACs. The push to concentrate aid on Obama’s reelection led Alliance co-founder Peter Lewis to renounce the group.

The Alliance did not return multiple requests for comment.