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Democratic Media Group Ditches Ad Effort

Progressive Media USA, the group organized to be the main soft-money advertising vehicle for Democrats in the fall, will dramatically scale back its efforts in deference to the wishes of the party's presumptive nominee.

"Progressive Media will not be running an independent ad campaign this year," David Brock, the head of the organization, confirmed in a statement obtained by The Fix this morning.

"Progressive Media was established to be an independent on-going progressive issue advocacy organization," Brock added. "We were not established for one issue, one candidate or one election cycle. But donors and potential donors are getting clear signals from the Obama camp through the news media and we recognize that reality."

Those familiar with the group's decision cast it as largely the result of the stated desire of Sen. Barack Obama's campaign to not direct funds to outside organizations in hopes of better controlling the Democratic message in the fall. (Note: Ben Smith of Politico first reported this story.) But the group was also struggling to raise the money necessary to be a major force in the presidential race and was riven by internal divisions.

During a gathering of Obama's national finance committee earlier this month in Indianapolis, it was made clear to these top donors that they should concentrate on raising money for the candidate and not spend their time funding independent organizations of which Progressive Media USA is one.

That warning made Progressive Media USA's already difficult task -- raising tens of millions of dollars in short order from skeptical donors with the unsuccessful soft money efforts of 2004 still on their mind -- almost impossible. Without buy-in (literally) from Obama's major donors, it's extremely unlikely deep-pocketed Clinton backers would fund the effort to help elect the Illinois senator on their own.

The downscaling of Progressive Media USA is the latest chapter of the group's short but turbulent history. The group, which was initially led by Tom Matzzie, former Washington director for Moveon.org, was originally known as Campaign to Defend America when it was formed in the fall of 2007. The budget for the effort, according to Matzzie, was $100 million.

The group struggled to gain traction, however, and in early April liberal media critic David Brock took control of the group -- promising a $40 million media onslaught against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

(Those familiar with the group say that Brock and Matzzie were like oil and water stylistically, and their differences made it difficult to put everyone involved with the organization on the same page.)

The reformed group drew immediate attention with an ad that painted McCain as a clone of President George W. Bush on the economy. But the extended ad campaign promised by many within Progressive Media USA never materialized -- likely due to a lack of available resources.

The financial struggles of Progressive Media USA are the rule not the exception in this presidential election. Soft-money groups seemed to have reached their zenith in 2004 when progressive-aligned organizations like America Coming Together and Media Fund as well as conservative-backed groups like Progress for America and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had an undeniably large influence over the outcome of the election.

Four years later, outside groups on both sides of the aisle have experienced all sorts of problems in securing the cash to fund any sort of serious independent effort. That lack of success is particularly true at the presidential level, where Progressive Media USA's collapse comes on the heels of a decision to turn Freedom's Watch from a conservative-aligned presidential vehicle to one that spends its time and money on House races.

It's hard to imagine that big-dollar donors won't seek to exert their influence in some substantial way in the run-up to the 2008 election. But so far the vehicles that have tried to do just that have run out of gas after traveling just a few miles.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 15, 2008; 10:38 AM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party  
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