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Democratic donors still divided over the best approach to 2012

Democratic donors and operatives gathered yesterday at the Mandarin Hotel for a conference hosted by the Democracy Alliance to talk about the past midterm elections and what they mean for strategy on various policy and electoral issues going forward. The event was closed to the press, but Politico managed to snoop around long enough to find out a few things:

Among the donors spotted at the conference on Tuesday, the second day of the three-day gathering, were former Stride Rite chairman Arnold Hiatt, hedge fund financier Donald Sussman, electronics pioneer Bill Budinger, real estate developer Wayne Jordan and Suzanne Hess, the wife of real estate mogul Lawrence Hess.

There was no sign of some of the deepest-pocketed Democracy Alliance members, such as tech entrepreneur Tim Gill, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, or billionaire financier George Soros, though Michael Vachon, a Soros representative, did attend.

The conference itself featured mostly big picture analyses of the midterm elections and their predicted impact on the donors’ favored policy causes,rather than strategic planning for the 2012 elections, sources told POLITICO. And – despite the tens of millions of dollars in independent advertisements aired in 2010 by GOP allies attacking Democratic candidates – Democracy Alliance is not formally recommending its donors contribute to any outside groups that focus primarily on election advertising.

Indeed, despite that fact that Democrats were outspent by outside groups on electoral advertising in the 2010 midterms by a big margin, they’re still divided on the question of the right approach to take leading up to 2012. One of the reasons is that the Democracy Alliance was founded in 2005 in the wake of an election in which outside left-leaning groups spent heavily and still lost the presidency. The idea was to take a new approach that would challenge the right’s “intellectual infrastructure” — think tanks like the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation — by creating institutions like the Center for American Progress to influence policy and media debates.

Now that they’ve been outgunned on the airwaves and trounced at the ballot box, some donors are getting restless and looking to create a political spending outfit to rival the network of right wing groups that revolve around American Crossroads and political operative Karl Rove. The meeting ended without any resolution to direct spending through any new group of this nature.

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