Conservative Spotlight: Americans for a Better Country

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McConnell v. FEC on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” law, conservative Americans have to realize something: Political candidates and political parties are no longer allowed full participation in political life. This abridgement of 1st Amendment free speech protections means outside, independent groups will have an expanded role in the political process—and conservative Americans seem to be just catching on to this. The media have published report after report about liberal Democratic Party activists forming huge new independent groups whose goal is to collect tens of millions of dollars in order to defeat President Bush and other conservative-leaning candidates in November. These groups clearly plan to collect the “soft money” now forbidden to the Democratic Party itself by McCain-Feingold. Where are the reports about conservatives doing the same? Contributions to Republican candidates and the GOP are no longer enough. But what, exactly, is allowed to independent organizations now that some forms of free political speech have been outlawed? “We want to find out,” said Frank Donatelli, counsel for a section 527 group called Americans for a Better Country (ABC), organized under IRS Code Section 527 ABC has submitted a detailed advisory opinion (AO) request to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking America’s regulators of political speech to clarify the United States’ speech code. The AO request was dated November 18, and since the Supreme Court for once did not write its own law and instead just put aside the 1st Amendment and upheld the core parts of the McCain-Feingold bill (passed by Congress and signed by President Bush after he indicated he would not do so), an answer from the FEC is urgently needed. “The court’s McCain-Feingold decision gave us some guidance but our AO will fill in the blanks,” said Donatelli, former political director for President Reagan and now vice president of McGuire Woods Consulting. The FEC has accepted the request and ABC hopes for a response by mid-February, he said. If the FEC gives the green light, ABC has ambitious plans. “Americans for a Better Country, a newly formed 527 political committee, has been set up with the goal of establishing an aggressive voter-mobilization and issue ad campaign to out-raise and out-spend, within the boundaries of the new campaign finance law, the liberal groups whose stated mission is the ‘defeat of George Bush,’” announced ABC in a press release. “The liberal groups have already been raising money from billionaires, labor unions and other special interests and making plans to spend their unlimited soft dollars to affect the 2004 elections. ABC wants the advisory opinion to clarify whether this is permissible.” For example, billionaire George Soros has given millions of dollars to independent groups in order to accomplish what he calls the “central focus of my life”: the defeat of President Bush for re-election. Donatelli noted that Bush’s poll numbers are not so hot. “We’re still a pretty divided country,” he said. “President Bush has moved the needle some.” Despite rapid economic growth and the lack of major terrorist attacks in this country since 9/11, Bush’s re-elect numbers in poll after poll are mediocre. “There’s been a lot of very bad publicity about Iraq,” said Donatelli, prior to Saddam Hussein’s capture, and “nine Democrats are spending their money attacking the administration.” So conservatives and Republicans should not be complacent about a Bush victory—especially since liberal groups seem to have a huge head start in organizing and fund-raising for the election campaign. Like it or not, “527s are now a fundamental part of the financing of political campaigns,” said Donatelli. “We’re a regulated industry now, like communications and banking. . . . It’s going to be harder for candidates and parties to have a unified, coherent message.” And there will be less accountability, not more. “If people don’t like what political candidates or parties do, if they don’t like the ads they run, they can vote them out of office,” said Donatelli. “How do you hold someone like George Soros accountable?” ABC’s AO request asks a variety of questions, such as whether 527s can hand out pamphlets advocating the election or defeat of a political candidate door to door and whether “More than 60 days before the election, can ABC identify, using soft dollars, potential voters who support President Bush? And within 60 days of an election? Since it is not incorporated, can ABC pay for such efforts with funds donated by corporations, unions and trade associations?” The 20-page AO request is full of such concerns that many Americans might feel are none of the government’s business, but, because of what Congress and the courts have done, politically engaged citizens must now wait for the Washington speech policemen’s answers. And then ABC, among others whose 1st Amendment rights have been circumscribed, will decide what it can say to influence politics in America. ABC may be reached c/o Shirley & Banister, 122 S. Patrick St., Alexandria, Va. 22314 (800-536-5920; e-mail:


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