Wicks, however, barely got to see her ideas put into action. A May 20 story in The Wall Street Journal, titled "Hillary Clinton Super PAC Struggles to Raise Money," reported that Wicks and her team were on track to collect $15 million through the end of June. In Wicks's defense, it was a not-insignificant sum, given that Priorities didn't start fundraising in earnest until after Clinton had entered the race in April. But it paled in comparison with Jeb Bush's haul, and with the $31 million reportedly raised by a group of super PACs backing Ted Cruz. The Journal story quoted several anonymous sources describing "unhappiness" and "dissatisfaction" with Priorities' efforts. Well-liked and respected by many in Democratic circles, Wicks was nevertheless deemed the wrong person for the job and pushed aside to make room for someone tighter with the Clintons.
By the end of May, Wicks was out and Guy Cecil—a 41-year-old Democratic operative who'd lost out to Robby Mook for the job of managing Clinton's 2016 campaign—was in. Unlike Wicks, Cecil had worked for Clinton, acting as her political director during the 2008 run. More recently, he ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2012 and 2014 cycles. In an interview, Cecil told me that it was Sweeney who approached him about joining Priorities. By bringing him aboard, Cecil says, it signaled to donors "they would know the [Clinton] imprimatur had been received." Cecil, who gave himself the titles of chief strategist and cochair, brought in a new executive director, Anne Caprara, who'd worked with him at the DSCC, and a new finance director to replace Justin Brennan, an Obama 2012 alum aligned with Wicks (he'd left to work on a Senate race in Ohio).
By the end of May, Buffy Wicks was out as chief of Priorities and Guy Cecil (above) was in. (Bill Clark/Roll Call)
Cecil also coaxed David Brock into rejoining the board. What's more, according to three sources familiar with the negotiations, Priorities and Brock are in talks about forming a joint fundraising agreement in which Priorities and Brock's presidential-minded groups—including the research-focused super PAC American Bridge 21st Century and the pro-Clinton fact-checking operation Correct the Record—will fundraise together and divide the proceeds. Representatives for Priorities and Brock confirmed the negotiations, but said they were in the early stages and declined to offer any details.
Messina, for his part, remains a cochair and, according to a Priorities official, will raise money for the group. But people close to him say that he is now largely out of the picture. (Priorities, which expects to have a staff of 13 by the end of the summer, moved out of Messina's office in July.)
Cecil told me he'd keep in place almost all of Wicks's transparency measures. But while Wicks and Brennan were full-time Priorities staffers, Cecil and his deputy director in charge of finance, Kim Kauffman, are consultants. (Cecil says he has only one other client at the moment, a small nonprofit, but did not rule out taking on other clients in the future.) In fact, most of the top operatives at Priorities, including Cecil, Priorities President Harold Ickes, and senior advisers Jonathan Mantz and Diana Rogalle, continue to represent other clients, whether as fundraisers, lobbyists, or advisers. This isn't out of the ordinary in Washington, but it can present complications. For instance, Mantz is a lobbyist for BGR Group, a firm cofounded by former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. In 2010, Mantz registered to lobby the House, Senate, and multiple federal agencies on behalf of InnoVida, a building-materials start-up that went bankrupt after two executives misappropriated $40 million of investors' money and misled those investors about the company's activities, according to a federal indictment. A judge sentenced both executives to jail time as a result. One of InnoVida's board members was Jeb Bush. Yet should Priorities single out Bush's work for InnoVida, an obvious reply would be to highlight Mantz's lobbying. "When you have other clients, there are always questions about where do your loyalties lie," says a source close to the Clintons. (Mantz declined to comment.)