Senator Barack Obama's campaign is steering the candidate's wealthy supporters away from independent Democratic groups, calling into question what had been expected to be the groups' central role in this year's Democratic offensive against Senator John McCain.
Obama's national finance chairwoman, Chicago hotel mogul Penny Pritzker, told supporters at a national finance committee meeting in Indianapolis May 2, and in other conversations, not to give money to the groups, people familiar with her comments said.
"From the beginning of this race Obama has told supporters that if they want to help his effort, they should do so through his campaign," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton, who confirmed that Pritzker has told donors not to give to the groups. "And he means exactly what he says."
Most presidential candidates say they don't encourage the outside groups, and donors are accustomed to taking those words with a grain of salt. The candidates' words are typically seen as mere legal defenses against allegations that the campaigns are illicitly coordinating with outside groups.
"It's given donors pause," said one prominent Democratic donor of Pritzker's words.
Donors and Democratic activists have been quietly debating Obama's motives: Is he simply interested in keeping his Democratic efforts within his campaign, which is so well funded he doesn't need outside help? Or is he, as some believe, cutting off funds to groups whose leaders -- Brock and Podesta -- some Obama aides view as too tightly linked to Clinton?
In either case, Pritzker's words are the latest in Obama's remarkably swift and complete consolidation of Democratic Party power. It's an unprecedented seizure of control that has built him, over the course of a year, the most powerful field organization and the largest financial network in American politics, leaving many existing structures -- traditional party organizations in many states, the Clintons' long-nurtured national network -- in the dust.
Just last summer, Matt Bai's widely accepted analysis identified the "billionaires" and the "bloggers" as the key, emergent players in the Democratic Party's infrastructure. But Obama has marginalized both groups. Pritzker's words are part of a move to keep Obama's grip on the sole important funnel of Democratic money this year. And his campaign has largely ignored the existing network of liberal bloggers, and actively opposes their embrace of fierce partisanship.
"Obama has created a number of significant infrastructure pieces through his campaign, displacing traditional groups the way he promised he would by signaling the end of the old politics of division and partisanship," the blogger Matt Stoller wrote recently of Obama's "consolidation of the party," which he called "stunning."