Democrats Revive Soft Money Efforts
After watching the two largest progressive soft money organizations either close or contract their operations in the first half of 2005, most Democrats were pessimistic about their chances of re-creating a shadow party as they did in the 2004 presidential race.
The year-end financial filing by America Votes should allay some of those concerns. In 2004, America Votes was the smallest of the three umbrella groups, which included America Coming Together and the Media Fund, that raised soft money in hopes of keeping President Bush from a second term. All told, the groups raised roughly $200 million for the losing effort. In the wake of that loss, ACT shuttered its operations while the Media Fund drastically scaled back its programs -- though it did run a voter-contact campaign during the 2005 Virginia governor's race.
Once the poor stepsister, America Votes has emerged as the best financed progressive entity still operating. In the last six months of 2005, America Votes raised $4.3 -- a solid, if not eye-popping, total.
More important than the amount raised by America Votes in the final six months of 2005, however, was who the dollars came from. George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who donated millions to ACT and Media Fund last cycle, gave $500,000 to America Votes on Nov. 25. Linda Pritzker, another major donor in the party, gave $50,000 on Nov. 27 and then another $600,000 on Dec. 30. Agnes Gund, a New York City-based art philanthropist, chipped in $35,000.
The "buy-in" from these major donors is considered essential to the success of any broad-scale soft money effort like America Votes. A number of the big contributors were unhappy with their investment following Bush's victory in November 2004 and made a decision not to make any more immediate contributions to campaign organizations.
The universe of these major donors is loosely affiliated through a group called the Democracy Alliance (DA), on which the Hotline's On Call blog has done some terrific reporting. Although DA has drawn considerable press attention, the group does not appear to have done much of anything as it relates to campaign 2006, choosing instead to invest their dollars on more long-range projects like funding think tanks and research operations to match those of conservatives. Given that backdrop, the involvement of Soros, Pritzker, Gund and others in America Votes should give Democrats some hope heading into the midterms.
Organized labor is also clearly on board with the Service Employees International Union donating $2.15 million in the final six months of 2005 -- the largest donation by a group or individuals to America Votes. A number of other major Democratic interest groups are also financially involved. The AFL-CIO, Human Rights Campaign and MoveOn.org all donated $50,000 a piece during the last six months.
Looking on the expenditures side, America Votes spent $1.3 million between July 1 and Dec. 31 -- mostly on staff and consultants. The group paid Grassroots Solutions, a Minnesota-based company, more than $90,000 in the period; NCEC, a specialized targeting company in Washington, received a similar $90,000; Nueva Vista consulting took in $60,000 and the Kauffman Group was paid $75,000.
The only campaign contribution America Votes made during the latter half of 2005 was the $110,000 it shipped to "Citizens to End Corruption" -- an Ohio-based group that pushed for a series of ballot measures last November.
America Votes does have state organizing coordinators for Ohio and New Hampshire on staff as well as a number of Washington-based operatives including its past president -- Cecile Richards.
Richards stepped down from her post to take a job with Planned Parenthood. Sierra Club President Carl Pope is heading up the search committee, which also includes Jeff Blum from US Action, Anna Burger (SEIU), Ellen Malcolm (EMILY's List) and Zach Pollett (ACORN), to find a replacement for Richards. An announcement is expected in March.
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