Politics

Liberal 527’s Spent Bundles Targeting Bush

The most remarkable phenomenon of the 2004 presidential campaign was the ascendancy of “527” political committees, which made a mockery of the supposed spending restraints of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. In fact, many Republican analysts believe Democrats went along with McCain-Feingold because they knew they could outspend the GOP by using 527s (named for the section of the tax code under which they are regulated). Free of most of the legal constraints that apply to fundraising by national candidates and parties, fueled by nine-figure budgets, and emboldened by animosity toward President Bush, pro-Democratic 527s have been major assets for John Kerry. Here is a look at the three most important pro-Democratic 527s: MoveOn.org Founded in 1998, MoveOn.org is an Internet-based group with a claimed membership of 1.7 million. High-tech husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd started it as an online protest against Republican-led efforts to impeach President Clinton. But MoveOn.org soon applied for and received 501(c)(4) status from the IRS. In 2002, it raised $3.5 million for more than three dozen congressional candidates–none Republican. The grass-roots group is not without high-dollar backers. In 2003, it created a 527, the MoveOn.org Voter Education Fund, which is running anti-Bush television commercials and organizing a get-out-the-vote campaign. In announcing the commercials, the Voter Fund revealed it was financed in part by a $2.5-million pledge from billionaire George Soros, $2.5 million from his Soros’s friend, Peter Lewis, founder of the Progressive Insurance Co. This year, MoveOn.org’s staff played a pivotal role in Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, which raised more than $41 million, largely by using the Internet to tap small donors. MoveOn special projects director Zach Exley then joined the Kerry campaign as “director of online communications and organization”–another indication of the paper-thin legal barrier that is supposed to prevent coordination between 527 groups and political campaigns. Even after 9/11, MoveOn activists refused to endorse a military strike against al Qaeda. Instead, the group launched a signature drive for its petition calling for “Justice, Not Escalating Violence That Would Only Play Into the Terrorists’ Hands.” In less than ten days, the on-line “Justice” petition attracted over 30,000 signatures. Last year, as U.S. armed forces prepared to invade Iraq, the group again gathered petition signatures and raised millions for newspaper and television protest ads. Its “Let the Inspections Work” drive, according to Ms. Magazine, “helped mobilize millions to protest the war.” MoveOn also hosted an Internet-based competition last year for the best “Bush in 30 seconds” TV ad that attracted more than 1,500 entries. One even used computer effects to morph a photo of Hitler into Bush. MoveOn pulled those ads in early January and apologized for their poor taste. But its principal donor, George Soros, has never disavowed remarks comparing the Bush Administration to Nazi Germany. MoveOn.org began its anti-Bush broadsides last fall with ads running in 67 media markets in 17 battleground states. America Coming Together America Coming Together (ACT) is a year-old 527 political action committee that meshes the big money of George Soros and other wealthy leftists to the grass-roots “people power” tactics of organizer Saul Alinsky. ACT is an umbrella organization for labor, environmental and women’s organizations. In September 2003, Soros met with ACT leaders Steve Rosenthal and Ellen Malcolm to map out the group’s voter mobilization strategy, and he pledged $10 million to make it happen. Defeating Bush, said Soros, is “a matter of life and death.” ACT has received pledges of $12 million from six other philanthropists and expected to get about $8 million from unions, including SEIU. Like the other liberal 527 groups, ACT denies that it coordinates its activities with the national Democratic Party or the Kerry campaign. But ACT leaders are almost exclusively veterans of the Clinton Administration, the Democratic National Committee, and past Democratic campaigns. ACT CEO Steve Rosenthal, for example, was a Clinton Labor Department political appointee and then the AFL-CIO political director (1996-2002). ACT named directors for each of 17 targeted states. Without exception, they are Democratic Party operatives. Iowa director Jeff Link managed Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s 1996 and 2002 re-election campaigns. ACT Pennsylvania director Greg Naylor was field director for Philadelphia Mayor John Street’s two winning bids for City Hall in 1999 and 2003. ACT promises to identify and turn out voters disenchanted with the Administration’s economic agenda. Ohio, the only large state other than Texas and Florida to give Bush its electoral votes in 2000, is a special target because it has had the largest loss of manufacturing jobs in the nation. Wrote Jeffrey Birnbaum in the Oct. 27, 2003, Fortune: “ACT already has get-out-the-vote specialists canvassing homes in Ohio to identify the most virulent opponents of the President.” ACT is not picky about the background of its field workers. “Critics already have amassed a list of the convicted felons among the canvassers,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Redmond, an alumnus of the campaign organizations of Philadelphia mayors John Street and Ed Rendell, is unfazed: “We certainly look into someone’s background, but I think it’s absolutely ludicrous to deny work to a person who’ paid for their wrong,” Missouri ACT Director Donald Redmond told the paper. The Media Fund The namesake son of FDR’s colorful secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, Jr. served as deputy chief of staff to President Clinton, whose reelection campaign was marked by the finance scandals inspired the McCain-Feingold law. Justice Department Campaign Finance Task Force head Charles LaBella described Ickes as a “Svengali, assuming power–with the imprimatur of the President–to authorize DNC and Clinton/Gore ’96 expenditures.” Interrogated by congressional committees, Ickes was never indicted or convicted of any crime. Ickes started the Washington, D.C.,-based Media Fund in 2003. Its goal: raise and spend $140 million for attack commercials against Bush. Major donors include some of the most reliable bankrollers of Democratic candidates, most notably, again George Soros, who has reportedly given a large donation. Other major donors include: Insurance magnate Peter Lewis, $1 million; NBC television producer Marsey Carsey (“Cosby,” “Rosanne,” “Whoopi”), $500,000; Anne Earhart, a granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, $500,000; Agvar Chemicals President Agnes Varis, $175,000. Laurie David, wife of “Seinfeld” co-creator and HBO star Larry David, also helped Ickes launch the Media Fund. She, former “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and 20 others co-hosted a party at the Beverly Hilton to build support for Ickes’ new group. Among the Hollywood donors: Paul Newman, $25,000; Norman Lear, $12,500; Kevin Bacon, $7,500; Rob Reiner, $5,000; and Chevy Chase, $2500. The Media Fund denies any connection to John Kerry or the Democratic Party. But Jim Jordan, the Media Fund’s spokesman, was a senior political adviser to Kerry for five years and managed his presidential campaign until Kerry fired him in November 2003. Less than three months later, Jordan was quoted in the National Journal as saying of Kerry: “I’m working every day still, from the sidelines, to see that he’s elected.” In past elections, independent “issue groups” and “voter education funds” were criticized by the political parties for devising their own strategies, raising their own funds, and making decisions about the placement and timing of commercials. Both Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1988 repudiated independent campaigns that advocated their election and attacked their opponents. That was because those independent expenditure campaigns were genuinely independent. Not in 2004. The Kerry camp has yet to utter any criticism about the 527 groups.

“Bit Three” 527s Spend $100M Bashing Bush
(Since the beginning of the year, the three major 527s — ACT, the Media Fund, and MoveOn.org — have deployed more than $100 million on national media and voter turnout efforts.)
527
$ Raised in Last Quarter
(July 1-September 30)
$ Raised Year to Date
(as of October 13)
ACT
$24,140,171
$49,317,339
The Media Fund
$18,422,695
$48,655,183
MoveOn.org
$2,989,850
$7,276,519

(Figures provided by the Center for Public Integrity) This article is based on a report Mr. Gizzi did for Organization Trends, a publication of the Capital Research Foundation.


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