Hispanic mega-donors launch group for immigration
President Barack Obama won reelection with overwhelming support from Hispanics — and now Latino megadonors aligned with the White House are trying to mobilize that community behind his second-term agenda.
They’re working feverishly behind the scenes to launch an organization that will focus on passing comprehensive immigration reform — the latest attempt to create a new group to assist an administration that often prefers to deal with its allies instead of entrenched, inside-the-Beltway organizations.
Led by a trio of top fundraisers that includes actress Eva Longoria, the effort comes out of The Futuro Fund, a national initiative of Latino leaders who helped reelect Obama. Organizers are aiming to marshal the support of the thousands of Hispanics it galvanized during the campaign to create a robust online and social media presence that can pressure Congress into acting on immigration reform.
But it could cause friction with more traditional Hispanic civil rights groups, like the League of United Latin American Citizens and National Council of La Raza, that have spent decades lobbying for an overhaul of the country’s immigration laws. It could also spell trouble for Republicans looking to make inroads with Hispanics after their electoral drubbing.
The decision by Obama loyalists to launch a separate entity follows long-simmering tension between some immigration proponents and the administration over its record number of deported immigrants and Obama’s failure to push Congress to act on reshaping the immigration system before the 2012 election. The veteran organizations grew increasingly critical of the president during his first term as he laid blame for the lack of progress on Republicans.
But now, immigration advocates see new hope for an agreement given Republicans’ very public soul-searching after the election and the increasing number of GOP-ers openly supporting an overhaul of immigration laws. Advocates have been encouraged by what they call a renewed determination from the president, expressed in his public statements and in private meetings, to push a bill early next year.
The Obama administration has a history of creating and supporting organizations like its grass-roots campaign arm Obama for America and Business Forward, which placed allies on the ground for get-out-the-vote efforts and put White House officials in close contact with business leaders inside the Beltway and beyond.
San Antonio architect Henry Muñoz, a top Latino bundler for Obama, is spearheading the effort, along with Longoria and Andres Lopez, a San Juan, Puerto Rico, bundler and member of the Democratic National Committee. The trio has also been intimately involved in pushing for the creation of a National Latino Museum on the mall in Washington and is waiting for Congress to act on the Smithsonian American Latino Act, the next critical step for moving the process forward.
Muñoz told POLITICO that the goal is to make sure that the organization and enthusiasm of Latinos doesn’t end with the election.
“The conversation is about the importance of continuing the Futuro movement,” Muñoz said. “What has seemed to have happened in the past is to build something, and the election was treated as the end. We do have a voice, and it’s not only in votes. We want to activate donors, investors and not let it go away, and reactivate it in four years and only with a partisan aspect.”
Organizers have met with the White House Office of Public Engagement and continued meetings last week with White House officials, according to Muñoz. They’ve discussed using the model of Business Forward, a national nonprofit set up by Obama allies that helps facilitate meetings between White House officials and businesses. The Latino-focused organization also has a nationwide network and will try to keep the 150,000 Latinos that the Futuro Fund has culled online active in the immigration debate.
Stephanie Valencia, associate director of the Office of Public Engagement, has been floated as a potential executive director for the new group, according to sources familiar with the discussions. Muñoz declined to comment on who may be tapped to lead the unnamed organization.
The White House is downplaying its involvement, saying it meets with many groups.
“As part of the president’s commitment to opening the doors of the White House to more of the American people, our Office of Public Engagement meets with and hears regularly from a variety of citizens and stakeholders from all across the country,” spokesman Luis Miranda said in a statement, noting the online #My2K effort regarding tax cuts for the middle class. “We welcome community-led efforts to mobilize people around the issues that matter most to them. When the American people speak out, they help get things done in Washington, and the president wants Americans’ voices to be heard.”
The organization’s launch comes as other immigration proponents are ratcheting up their own efforts. This week, the National Immigration Forum is hosting a two-day conference in Washington, bringing together church leaders, moderate business leaders and law enforcement officials in an attempt to draw attention to the larger consensus for action on immigration reform in 2013.
So far, immigration proponents are upbeat — at least publicly — about a new voice joining the immigration debate.
“They want to make sure they are leveraging their position with the White House and the president to reinforce the issues of importance to the Hispanic community,” said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of National Council of La Raza, whom Muñoz has consulted on his effort. “It is a welcomed and positive dynamic for us as a community. It enhances our voice.”
Frank Sharry — executive director of America’s Voice and a leading advocate in the 2006 and 2007 efforts to pass immigration reform — welcomed the effort.
“I’m in the ‘more the merrier’ camp — and welcome big players and donors to the fray,” said Sharry, who at times has been critical of the Obama White House. “We need every ounce of power and every penny we can muster.”
A LULAC spokeswoman, Paloma Zuleta, declined to comment on the organization because it hasn’t been publicly announced. More broadly, she said, “We would welcome every resource to pass comprehensive immigration reform — a critical issue for our community.”
But privately, veteran immigration reform advocates aren’t as thrilled with a new entity encroaching on their territory and view the new organization as an end-run around the long-standing players.
“The sense I got is they really didn’t want to deal with the traditional Hispanic immigration groups,” said one source familiar with the discussions. “So, they were feeling emboldened after the election and said, ‘Let’s make our own group. We’ll do something like Business Forward where we deal with our people, and those folks can deal with that group.’”
Muñoz said the new entity isn’t a rival to other Latino entities.
“We have had a very healthy conversation with [Latino] leaders and existing leadership,” Muñoz said, noting that his mantra is “Always with unity.”
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