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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 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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 16, 2006; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party  
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Hey Cleveland:
I agree that Stirckland is our worst nightmare. He can attract downstate voters for sure.
Here's a piece from the PD politics blog about voting numbers that outta sober you up.
We have our work cut out for us and we know what we need to do to win.

The Demographic Party?
Population shifts may make Ohio Democrats’ statewide campaigns more arduous than ever.

In 1982, when Lakewood Democrat Richard F. Celeste won the governorship – the last Democrat to do so – voters in Cuyahoga and the six counties that border it cast about 894,000 votes for all gubernatorial candidates.

In 2002, albeit in a tepid contest between GOP incumbent Bob Taft and Greater Cleveland Democrat Timothy F. Hagan, the total gubernatorial vote in the seven Greater Cleveland counties fell to about 804,000 votes. Conversely, the total gubernatorial vote cast in Franklin (Columbus) and Hamilton (Cincinnati) and their bordering counties rose from a combined 817,000 votes in 1982 to 858,000 votes in 2002.

Trends are even more revealing in outer suburbia. Growth from 1982 to 2002 in the total gubernatorial vote cast in counties bordering Franklin (28 percent) or Hamilton (40 percent) dwarfs the 3.5 percent rise in counties bordering Cuyahoga. Heavy GOP voting in suburban Cincinnati is widely said to have assured Ohio’s electoral vote for President Bush in 2004.

Upshot: This election year, Democrats’ statewide candidates will have to devote more time than ever to downstate Ohio.

—Thomas Suddes

Posted by: viabush04OH | February 17, 2006 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Vivabush has a point: the Dems are out-of-touch with Ohio voters.

Doesn't mean a GOP win in '06. You can't mismanage a state (or a country, for that matter) as badly as they have and still expect the same level of support.

Ohio will have a Democratic governer in '06.

Posted by: Cleveland | February 17, 2006 2:56 PM | Report abuse

America Votes and Citizens Agianst Corruption are two dangerous left-wing outfits as far as Ohio GOP is concerned.

All of the groups mentioned, Soros, ACT ACORN SEIU spent megabucks in Ohio in 2004 and 2005 with nothing but losses to account for. They poured in a ton of money and out of state organizers and workers and still lost Ohio and the presidency to Bush.

Last year their 4 ballot amendments failed by margins of 66-33%.
One would hope that they would learn that Ohioans are mainstream and not left-wing radicals and no amount of money is going to allow their candidates and issues to pass.

Alas, they are back again working for the Dem ticket in 2006.
Here we go again--GOP win.

Posted by: vivabush04OH | February 17, 2006 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Any doofus who thinks that soft money practices are only carried out by a single party (or that Abramoff gave equally to the Democrats) is not worth responding to. This forum won't convince anyone of anything (only real loonies believe otherwise) so just give it a bloody rest.

What I'd like to know: what are these organizations going to do with their money? Chris talks about the America Votes money but where will the rest of it go in 2006? 2008? Will any of these groups favor one presidential candidate over another within the Democratic Party?

Posted by: lpdrjk | February 17, 2006 12:17 PM | Report abuse

As a First Amendment issue, I have no problem with the 527s, but the idea that Democrats have any real interest in campaign finance reform is a joke. They just could not compete with the small-donor, hard-dollar superiority of the Republican Party.

So, to my beloved Internuts, this question: Should a George Soros, or the Republican equivalent, be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the political process?

And for Mr. Intrepid Liberal, please explain the thousands of dollars of Abramoff-client and Abramoff-crony support to Senator Reid that temporally coincides with meetings and legislative support. The fact that Abramoff did not give personally to Democrats does not in any way mitigate the millions of dollars he directed to them. As long as it is fungible, money is money.

Posted by: Silent Cal | February 17, 2006 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Paul Hackett dropped out because he got the results of a poll that looked terrible for him. That, and he had more support out of state than in Ohio. Lets get serious and put an end to the "stabbed in the back" discussion.

Posted by: just one thing | February 17, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and I forgot to mention this, but I believe the Economist (one of those publications I read in my spare time) reported the same thing about 2 weeks ago. If you'd like I'll cite the article for you when I get home. They spent quite a bit of time on the Abramoff scandal.

Posted by: bored at work | February 17, 2006 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Fair point Larry. His personal money did not but he still directed money to the Democrats.

And I asked earlier that we not resort to classless attacks.

Posted by: bored at work | February 17, 2006 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Not one penny of Abramoff personal monet went to Dems.If you are "bored at work" please read and learn in your spare time.

Posted by: Larry | February 17, 2006 10:03 AM | Report abuse

PA Hunter:
The Republican party is just as corrupt as the Democratic party. Jack Abramoff is a prime example. Another good example would be Duke Cunningham who took millions in bribes from the defense industry. Tom Delay is indicted on conspiracy to commit money laundering charges. These are only the examples in recent months. If we were to go back, it would be easy to point out Nixon and the Watergate scandal or Reagan and Iran-Contra. So don't try and act like your party does not have its skelatons.

Intrepid Liberal:
You are correct that the Republican party controls every branch of government but you are wrong to say that Jack Abramoff didn't give money to Democrats. It has been widely reported that he gave money to both parties (ie. Harry Reid). Also, the war in Iraq is legal. Congress did vote on it. They may have voted on it under false information or may have been misled but they did vote on it. And can we please get off the idea of the 'corporatist' idealogy? Democrats are as 'corporatist' as Republicans.

I am tired of seeing people resort to hyperbole and classless attacks on either side. Stop trying to sound-byte each other into submission.

Posted by: Bored at work | February 17, 2006 9:54 AM | Report abuse

PA Hunter -

Me thinks you doth protest too much. The Republican Party controls EVERY branch of government. The Jack Abramoff scandal is a Republican scandal. Not one dime went to a single Democratic. Under Republican rule young men and women are sacrificing their lives in an illegal war that has undermined the war on terrorism abroad while working people are ripped off at home by a corporatist ideology. Your support of them is empowering a reign of indecency.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal | February 16, 2006 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Let's talk Kst Project, Club for Growth, and the other Republican correspondents.

BTW - Chris, how avbout some of that "hard hitting" coverage over there? Or do your editors only shove in "false balance" when it's the Republicans being exposed. It would be easy enough for real balance to be done here.

Posted by: Corrupting? | February 16, 2006 7:54 PM | Report abuse

The Republicans have disgusted me for decades. I have supported the Democratic Party for a long time, despite some disagreements with its strategies and choices. But now the Democratic Party disgusts me, particularly with its internecine back-stabbing, the latest episode being its treatment of Paul Hackett. I'm sure the Republicans are hoisting a few cold ones over that. They have everything in place to further their cause; we have nothing in place. I fear that we are left only with the hope for some outrageous and unforeseen good fortune to get our nation out from under the Neocon/Republican boots.

Posted by: Stephen Figler, Cambria, CA | February 16, 2006 5:42 PM | Report abuse

So once more the Democrats have to reach out to the corrupting influences of soft money contributions and George Soros' efforts to buy an American election. This just confirms to me that the party of corruption is the Democrats and not the Republicans.

Posted by: PAHunter | February 16, 2006 5:37 PM | Report abuse

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